Can Doug Baldwin Live Up to the Great Expectations in 2016?
“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule.”
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Because we at numberFire are passionate about writing pieces on angry players, I wanted to examine the evidence on Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin and to explain why you should have great expectations for him this season.
Of course, Baldwin isn’t really angry. He’s just really passionate, and he’s actually a pretty funny dude.
Prefrontal Cortex Development
When you’re a really smart guy with an education from Stanford, you drop terms like prefrontal cortex a lot.
Baldwin (and science) believe that prefrontal cortex development happens up until your mid-20s, and Baldwin feels strongly that it's the recent development in his brain that has changed how he views his role on the football field.
I'm no neuroscientist, but whatever happened to Baldwin's brain last season made him really good at football.
The Seahawks must like the development that they have seen in Baldwin, both in his brain and on the field, as they signed him to a four-year contract extension that will pay him $11.5 million per season, making him the seventh-highest paid receiver in the NFL and keeping him in Seattle for his prime years.
More impressive than Baldwin’s big brain and newly swolled pockets has been the development of his role in the offense since Russell Wilson arrived in Seattle.
In every season that Darrell Bevell has called plays for Wilson, Wilson’s pass attempts have steadily increased, up to a career-high 483 attempts in the 2015 season. And every year that Wilson’s attempts have increased, so have Baldwin’s targets and receptions.
|Year||Seattle Pass Attempts||Baldwin Targets||Baldwin Receptions|
Despite attempting a career high number of passes last season, Wilson ranked in the bottom half of regular starters for attempts. Unproven commodities such as Jameis Winston (535) and Ryan Tannehill (586) attempted more passes than Wilson.
With running back Marshawn Lynch gone, Thomas Rawls recovering from a season-ending ankle injury, and rookies C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins still learning the offense, there's no reason not to expect Bevell to put even more responsibility on the right arm of Wilson.
I would be shocked if Wilson doesn’t eclipse the 500 attempt mark this season and set another career-high in pass attempts, as he has done every year he's played in the NFL under Bevell.
And as has been the pattern for their entire career together, the more attempts Wilson makes, the more targets and catches Baldwin receives.
Our current projections have Baldwin at 75.91 catches, 1,022.27 yards, and 9.34 touchdowns, a slight decrease in his production from last season, and Wilson to attempt just shy of 450 passes. However, if Baldwin and Wilson continue on their current production arc, Baldwin should end up with numbers closer to 80-plus catches, 1,250 yards, and 9 or 10 touchdowns.
What Our Metrics Say
Among the 31 wide receivers who had between 55 to 99 receptions last season, Baldwin’s Reception Net Expected Points (NEP), which quantifies a player's impact in terms of points added above expectation level, was the sixth-best in the group.
Baldwin’s 87.18 percent Reception Success Rate, the percentage of receptions that boosted his team's NEP, was the 12th-best mark among this class of receivers with comparable catches.
Baldwin’ impact on the offense in terms of NEP was even more impressive when broken down on a per-target level.
Among the 38 receivers who had between 75 to 130 targets last season, Baldwin’s 77.74 Target NEP was the best in the grouping, and the only score in the 70s. Sammy Watkins' 66.76 Target NEP was the next best mark. Baldwin’s 0.75 Target NEP per target was also tops among this group of receivers.
To put these numbers into further context, if you eliminate the target filter and compare Baldwin to every receiver in the NFL, his Target NEP mark is fourth-best overall, behind only Julio Jones, Beckham, and Green and is 1.09 points higher than fifth-ranked Antonio Brown.
If Baldwin was on your season-long fantasy team last season or if you play on FanDuel, then you remember his epic eight-game run.
When injuries hit Seattle’ backfield hard, the Seahawks turned Wilson and Baldwin loose. And, man, did they respond. Over the final eight games of the season, Baldwin had 47 catches, 724 yards and 12, yes that’s 12 with a t-w-e-l-v-e touchdowns. He scored in five straight games and ripped off 10 touchdowns in a four-game stretch.
During that miraculous run, Baldwin became only the third player in NFL history to catch at least two touchdowns in four consecutive games. Chris Carter in 1995 and Calvin Johnson in 2011 are the only other two receivers to accomplish this feat. That’s pretty elite company.
Maybe Baldwin isn’t viewed as an elite receiver because he’s only 5'10", and he has, up until now, played in a primarily run-first offense.
He doesn’t have the physical size of Julio Jones, doesn’t warm up making one-handed circus catches like Odell Beckham, and hasn’t posted huge numbers like Antonio Brown.
But make no mistake, Baldwin is actually good.
He may not look the part of an elite receiver, but according to all the evidence, he’s certainly on his way to becoming just that.