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Player Spotlight: Doug Baldwin

A detailed examination of Doug Baldwin's fantasy prospects for 2016

A Season to Remember

One of the great things about fantasy football is that no matter how much time we put into preseason preparation, no matter how many times we update our projections, no matter how many times we dissect a given situation, there will ALWAYS be surprises. Last year, Doug Baldwin provided us with one of the most surprising seasons from a receiver in recent memory. To say that Baldwin was dynamic would be the understatement of a lifetime.

  • 103 targets
  • 78 receptions
  • 1,069 yards
  • 13.7 yards per catch
  • 14 touchdowns
  • WR7 fantasy ranking

The season was surprising for several reasons:

  1. In four prior seasons, Baldwin never finished higher than 37th (50 receptions for 778 yards and 5 touchdowns)
  2. The Seahawks were supposed to be a run-first team
  3. Russell Wilson has traditionally liked to spread the ball around
  4. Baldwin got off to a slow start

About that slow start...

Through the first eight games of the season, Baldwin was having a forgettable season that wasn't much different than his prior four:

Weeks 1-8 Per Game Averages

  • 5 targets
  • 3.9 receptions
  • 43.1 yards
  • 0.25 touchdowns

Pro-rated over a full 16 games yields:

  • 80 targets
  • 62 receptions
  • 690 yards
  • 4 touchdowns

Then, a light switch went off and the Seahawks offense exploded thanks in no small part to Doug Baldwin's mind-numbing productivity:

Weeks 9-16 Per Game Averages

  • 7.9 targets
  • 5.9 receptions
  • 90.5 yards
  • 1.5 touchdowns

Pro-rated over a full 16 games yields:

  • 126 targets
  • 94 receptions
  • 1,448 yards
  • 24 touchdowns

Don't Bet On An Encore

What's more likely, Doug Baldwin suddenly morphed 4.5 seasons into his career into the second coming of Jerry Rice OR that 8-game explosion was the anomaly and we should instead focus on his other 4.5 years of game logs? The truth lies somewhere in between, but expectations should be closer to prior levels than an ability to sustain last year's WR1 value.
 

Regression Red Flag #1 -- 75.7% Catch Rate

Baldwin caught 78 of 103 targets last year; an astounding achievement. Prior to last season, Baldwin had a 64.3% career catch rate. Lest you think last year's rate is repeatable, take a look at recent NFL history.
 
Over the last five years, wide receivers have had 100+ targets 179 times; Doug Baldwin's 75.7% catch rate is 2nd best.
 
Top 50 Catch Rates by a Wide Receiver (2011-2015, Minimum: 100 Targets)
RankFirstLastYearTgtsRecsCatch%
1 Randall Cobb 2012 104 80 76.9%
2 Doug Baldwin 2015 103 78 75.7%
3 Marques Colston 2011 109 82 75.2%
4 Jarvis Landry 2014 112 84 75.0%
5 Larry Fitzgerald 2015 146 109 74.7%
6 Percy Harvin 2011 120 87 72.5%
7 Randall Cobb 2014 127 91 71.7%
8 Emmanuel Sanders 2014 141 101 71.6%
9 Antonio Brown 2014 181 129 71.3%
10 Wes Welker 2011 173 122 70.5%
11 Antonio Brown 2015 193 136 70.5%
12 Jeremy Maclin 2015 124 87 70.2%
13 Odell Beckham Jr 2014 130 91 70.0%
14 Golden Tate 2015 129 90 69.8%
15 Golden Tate 2014 142 99 69.7%
16 Eric Decker 2012 122 85 69.7%
17 Julian Edelman 2013 151 105 69.5%
18 Andre Johnson 2012 162 112 69.1%
19 Julian Edelman 2014 135 93 68.9%
20 Willie Snead 2015 102 70 68.6%
21 Keenan Allen 2013 104 71 68.3%
22 Kendall Wright 2013 139 94 67.6%
23 Marques Colston 2013 111 75 67.6%
24 Jordy Nelson 2013 126 85 67.5%
25 Wes Welker 2012 175 118 67.4%
26 Julio Jones 2015 203 136 67.0%
27 Michael Crabtree 2012 127 85 66.9%
28 Dez Bryant 2012 138 92 66.7%
29 Demaryius Thomas 2012 141 94 66.7%
30 Antonio Brown 2013 167 111 66.5%
31 Jarvis Landry 2015 167 111 66.5%
32 Jordan Matthews 2015 128 85 66.4%
33 Anquan Boldin 2013 128 85 66.4%
34 Wes Welker 2013 110 73 66.4%
35 James Jones 2014 111 73 65.8%
36 Nate Burleson 2011 111 73 65.8%
37 Jordan Matthews 2014 102 67 65.7%
38 A.J. Green 2015 132 86 65.2%
39 Brandin Cooks 2015 129 84 65.1%
40 Eric Decker 2014 114 74 64.9%
41 Jordy Nelson 2014 151 98 64.9%
42 Pierre Garcon 2015 111 72 64.9%
43 DeSean Jackson 2013 125 81 64.8%
44 Demaryius Thomas 2013 142 92 64.8%
45 Pierre Garcon 2014 105 68 64.8%
46 Dez Bryant 2014 136 88 64.7%
47 Roddy White 2014 124 80 64.5%
48 Harry Douglas 2013 132 85 64.4%
49 Roddy White 2012 143 92 64.3%
50 Greg Jennings 2013 106 68 64.2%

Regression Red Flag #2 -- 17.9% TOUCHDOWN Rate

Baldwin's 14 touchdowns on 78 receptions should send off major alarm bells. Very few receivers in league history have had 100+ targets and approached that TD%. In fact, Baldwin's 17.9% rate ranks 2nd among 179 qualified seasons over the last five years.
  
Top 50 TD Rates by a Wide Receiver (2011-2015, Minimum: 100 Targets)
RankFirstLastYearTgtsRecsTD%
1 Dez Bryant 2014 136 88 18.2%
2 Doug Baldwin 2015 103 78 17.9%
3 Mike Evans 2014 123 68 17.6%
4 Allen Robinson 2015 151 80 17.5%
5 Calvin Johnson 2011 160 96 16.7%
6 Torrey Smith 2012 110 49 16.3%
7 Santonio Holmes 2011 100 50 16.0%
8 Allen Hurns 2015 105 64 15.6%
9 Eric Decker 2012 122 85 15.3%
10 Demaryius Thomas 2013 142 92 15.2%
11 Eric Decker 2015 132 80 15.0%
12 Vincent Jackson 2011 114 60 15.0%
13 Mike Wallace 2014 115 67 14.9%
14 Dez Bryant 2011 104 63 14.3%
15 Calvin Johnson 2013 155 84 14.3%
16 Mike Williams 2012 126 63 14.3%
17 Dez Bryant 2013 159 93 14.0%
18 Denarius Moore 2012 114 51 13.7%
19 Wes Welker 2013 110 73 13.7%
20 Odell Beckham Jr 2015 154 96 13.5%
21 Jordy Nelson 2014 151 98 13.3%
22 Randall Cobb 2014 127 91 13.2%
23 Odell Beckham Jr 2014 130 91 13.2%
24 Brandon Marshall 2014 106 61 13.1%
25 Dez Bryant 2012 138 92 13.0%
26 Mike Wallace 2012 117 62 12.9%
27 Brandon Marshall 2015 172 109 12.8%
28 Cecil Shorts 2012 105 55 12.7%
29 Julio Jones 2012 128 79 12.7%
30 Eric Decker 2013 136 87 12.6%
31 Kelvin Benjamin 2014 145 73 12.3%
32 Larry Fitzgerald 2013 135 82 12.2%
33 Marques Colston 2012 130 83 12.0%
34 Brandon Marshall 2013 165 100 12.0%
35 Jordan Matthews 2014 102 67 11.9%
36 Alshon Jeffery 2014 145 85 11.8%
37 A.J. Green 2015 132 86 11.6%
38 Victor Cruz 2012 143 86 11.6%
39 Jeremy Maclin 2014 144 86 11.6%
40 A.J. Green 2012 165 97 11.3%
41 Keenan Allen 2013 104 71 11.3%
42 Calvin Johnson 2014 128 71 11.3%
43 A.J. Green 2013 178 98 11.2%
44 DeSean Jackson 2013 125 81 11.1%
45 Mike Wallace 2011 113 72 11.1%
46 Vincent Jackson 2012 147 72 11.1%
47 Victor Cruz 2011 132 83 10.8%
48 A.J. Green 2011 115 65 10.8%
49 Brandin Cooks 2015 129 84 10.7%
50 Demaryius Thomas 2012 141 94 10.6%

Regression is Guaranteed -- But Baldwin Has Value

Just because we expect Doug Baldwin to regress this year does not mean he's devoid of value. Underneath Baldwin's breakout is a fundamental shift in the Seahawks' offense. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has slowly allowed Russell Wilson more control of the offense.

  • 2012 -- 405 pass attempts
  • 2013 -- 420 pass attempts
  • 2014 -- 454 pass attempts
  • 2015 -- 483 pass attempts
The Seahawks are not going to be confused with the New Orleans Saints anytime soon, but the trend certainly supports a continued increase in total attempts and, therefore, more targets. Baldwin's 103 targets last season should be a floor and there's every reason to think he'll see a bump (120+) this season. More targets from an elite, hyper efficient quarterback generally equates to a high floor for the team's #1 receiver. Baldwin's current ADP (WR22, 49th overall) prices in meaningful regression. Fantasy owners are NOT paying for last year's breakout.
 

What level of production does Baldwin's ADP (WR22) imply?

FirstLastTeamRecsYdsYPRTDsFPTs
John Brown (2015) ARI 65 1003 15.4 7 144.5
Brandon LaFell (2014) NE 74 953 12.9 7 138.6
Marvin Jones (2013) CIN 51 712 14.0 10 137.7
Cecil Shorts (2012) JAX 55 979 17.8 7 139.5
Pierre Garcon (2011) IND 70 947 13.5 6 133.5
Average     63 918.8 14.5 7.4 138.76

On average, the WR22 produces:

  • 63 receptions (19% lower than Baldwin's 2015 tally)
  • 919 yards (14% lower)
  • 7.4 touchdowns (47% lower)

Those numbers are discounted enough to de-risk Baldwin. He remains the team's top receiver, and Jimmy Graham may never recover from his torn patellar tendon. Russell Wilson clearly has built a rapport with Baldwin, and the team signed him to a 5-year, $47.5 million ($24mm guaranteed) contract extension in the offseason.


Positives

  • Russell Wilson is one of the league's best quarterbacks, and produces an inordinate number of TDs given his relatively low level of pass attempts
  • Baldwin emerged last year as the team's clear-cut #1 receiver -- putting up Randy Moss-like stats in the final 8 games
  • Seattle re-signed Baldwin to a massive extension which illustrates their belief that 2015 was not a fluke

Negatives

  • Baldwin's 2015 screams anomaly -- both his catch rate and TD rate were 2nd best out of nearly 190 individual seasons over the last five years
  • Tyler Lockett is more talented and explosive; it's only a matter of time before he overtakes Baldwin as the top target
  • Seattle's offensive line continues to be a question mark and threatens the overall productivity of the offense

Projections

YEAR GRSHYDTDTARGRECYDTDFumL
2013 SEA 16 2 6 0 73 50 778 5  
2014 SEA 16 1 8 0 98 66 825 3  
2015 SEA 16 0 0 0 103 78 1069 14  
2016 PROJ-Dodds 15 1 5 0   74 947 7 1
2016 PROJ-Henry 16 2 10 0   73 1000 8 0
2016 PROJ-Wood 16 0 0 0   80 1000 8 0
2016 PROJ-Tremblay 16 0 0 0   67 912 9 1

Final Thoughts

Doug Baldwin helped a lot of fantasy owners win league titles last year. Few saw the journeyman who spent four years as a role player (WR37 was his best fantasy ranking) morphing into an unstoppable WR1 -- yet that's what transpired. For the reasons we've outlined, it's a veritable guarantee that Baldwin will regress in 2016. But, fantasy owners are already discounting meaningful regression. At his ADP of WR22, Baldwin is fairly priced and fully de-risked. He projects as a solid fantasy WR3 this year in both PPR and non-PPR leagues.

Other Viewpoints

Footballguys' own Jeff Haseley also sees Baldwin as a regression candidate:
It's entirely possible that we saw Doug Baldwin have a career year in 2015 that he will never top. He is a candidate for a regression to the mean after reaching career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. His 14 touchdowns in 2015, was nine more than his previous high of five set in 2013. The boom in production may be an anomaly or it may be due to the Seahawks passing game finally stretching it's wings as Russell Wilson becomes a more well-rounded quarterback. Either way, Baldwin's ADP of WR24, 49 overall has ballooned higher than my interest level. There's still uncertainty behind his ability to sustain those numbers. Plus with the emergence of Tyler Lockett, Baldwin will surely see a regression, in my opinion.
PFF's Mike Tagliere disagrees and sees Baldwin as undervalued:

The Seahawks were not major players in either free agency or the draft, so Baldwin has done nothing but solidify a major role in the offense. After the way he played last season, it’d be dumb not to feature him.  While there is no way to guarantee that he will continue to produce WR1 numbers, I can tell you that Marshawn Lynch isn’t going to be on the team, Thomas Rawls is coming off a bad ankle injury without a timeline for return, and that Jimmy Graham suffered a ruptured right patellar tendon in his knee. Seeing that he will turn 30 years old in-season, it’s hard to imagine him being the same player that he once was.  The stars are aligning for Baldwin, as they did last year. You can argue that there will be touchdown regression if you want, but at WR23, you’re already getting him at a discount. He’s a rock solid WR2 in both standard and PPR formats.