With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at whether the Seattle Seahawks’ leader in receptions for four years running can take his game to an even higher level.
Doug Baldwin took over for Golden Tate as the Seahawks’ featured wide receiver in 2014 after catching on as an undrafted free agent out of Stanford. Despite standing just 5-foot-10 and weighing 193 pounds, Baldwin has already earned a spot among the franchise’s top-five receivers in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. After the departures of Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson in free agency, Russell Wilson‘s No. 1 target might be positioned to thrive like never before in 2018.
The Times They Are A Changin’ in Seattle
The Seahawks failed to win double-digit games in 2017 for the first time in Wilson’s career. They accordingly parted ways with not only several of their defining players on defense — Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett are gone (Earl Thomas might be enough to keep the Seahawks a tough fantasy matchup, though Kam Chancellor‘s ability to return from a neck injury is in question) — but their second- and third-most targeted players in Graham and Richardson. Oh, and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable were both fired, so Brian Schottenheimer will now run the offense.
The change at coordinator isn’t great news for anyone involved when considering Schottenheimer’s historically ineffective — and borderline archaic — approach to offense.
Brian Schottenheimer PPG rank by year as an OC
The Seahawks average rank under Russell Wilson: 10th
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 25, 2018
It’s probably not a coincidence that 2008 marked the only year in which Schottenheimer directed an offense that ranked higher than 17th in pass attempts. In nine years as an offensive coordinator, his offenses have never produced a fantasy WR1 and have had just four WR2s, per Ryan McDowell.
An ineffective, run-heavy scheme is hardly what potential Baldwin fantasy investors want to hear, but this isn’t exactly a huge deviation from the norm.
The Seahawks Have Mostly Been a Run-First Offense
Even if Seattle’s now-underwhelming defense and new run-first philosophy manage to exceed expectations, Wilson and the offense aren’t exactly heading towards uncharted waters; he hasn’t ranked higher than 16th in pass attempts since entering the league, and from 2012 to 2014, he didn’t even rank higher than 28th.
Last season’s Seahawks offense essentially revolved around Wilson’s ability to make something out of absolutely nothing.
I mean seriously, what in the actual f–k is this?:
Per Sharp Football Stats, Wilson ranked third among all quarterbacks in passing yards after halftime last season, but just 21st during the first half. The offense’s inability to produce out of base packages regularly produced pass-heavy second-half comeback game scripts. This wasn’t particularly surprising considering the Seahawks’ rushing ‘attack’ consisted of five running backs with at least 45 carries that combined to produce zero 100-yard performances and just one rushing touchdown.
Somewhat surprisingly, the organization’s solution to the struggling offense was to use the team’s first-round pick on running back Rashaad Penny. The move to Schottenheimer, along with signing blocking tight end Ed Dickson and guard D.J. Fluker, indicates the team’s desire to return to a run-first mentality in 2018.
Still, the aforementioned subtractions at tight end and receiver could be just what Baldwin needs to take over the passing game.
Baldwin Could be a Target Hog
The departures of Seattle’s premier red-zone and deep-ball threats could create a plethora of fantasy-friendly opportunities for Baldwin, who just so happened to post a career-best stretch of football with both Graham and Richardson out of the lineup during the last half of the 2015 season:
Doug Baldwin played 7 games in 2015 (including playoffs) with both Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham sidelined.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 25, 2018
Graham received a league-high 16 targets inside the 10-yard line last season while Richardson’s average target depth of 15.4 yards mostly made him a recipient of Wilson’s downfield heaves. The departure of Graham could prove to be the most significant, as Baldwin has averaged an additional 8.4 PPR points per game with Graham sidelined and 0.9 with Richardson sidelined.
This isn’t to say Baldwin hasn’t been an effective fantasy weapon when the team has boasted a healthy offense. He joins Antonio Brown — who’s pretty special — as the only wide receivers with at least 75 receptions and seven touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. Baldwin’s WR13 finish in PPR last season marked his worst performance since 2014.
Even if the presence of Schottenheimer and the absences of Graham and Richardson wind up offsetting each other, there’s reason to be optimistic about Baldwin’s fantasy stock.
Baldwin’s current average draft position pits him as the WR10 in PPR. BetOnline currently gives the Seahawks an 8.5 win total with a -180 lean on the under, which represents a stark difference given the team has had a preseason win total of at least 10.5 every year since 2013.
Still, life as a fantasy receiver on a below-average team isn’t the end of the world when that receiver faces minimal competition for targets. Baldwin has averaged 114.7 targets over the past three seasons while operating in a largely run-first offense while competing with more viable options at wide receiver and tight end than Seattle currently has on its roster. Even if Tyler Lockett finally puts together a healthy campaign and replaces Richardson as the offense’s deep threat and Brandon Marshall makes the team and find a meaningful way to contribute, Baldwin surely figures to inch closer to his average of 16.5 red zone targets per season from 2015-2016 after seeing just eight such targets in 2017.
We already know Baldwin’s floor is a low-end WR1/high-end WR2, but a career-best performance could be on tap in 2018.
You can use our tools to research more player- or team-specific questions for yourself, and be sure to check out The Action Network for more in-depth NFL analysis.
Pictured above: Doug Baldwin
Photo credit: Matt Kartozian – USA TODAY Sports