Secret Superstars: Seattle Seahawks
Heading into the 2014 season, the Seattle Seahawks lost their best wide receiver in Golden Tate, with the playmaker heading to Detroit to join the Lions fresh after his contributions to the Super Bowl win. Many saw this as terrible news for a Seahawks team who’s receiving corps were regarded as one of the weaker areas of their team. Still, with plenty of contract extension for current players needed, they opted to let Tate leave, instead putting their faith in the receivers they still had.
A big reason for that was the faith they had in Doug Baldwin, a 2011 undrafted free agent who was, at the time, entering his fourth season in the league. Despite going undrafted out of Stanford, Baldwin was able to contribute straight away in Seattle, posting the second highest grade of any rookie receiver, as he racked up 792 yards and a Yards Per Catch average of 15.5 in his first season in the league. He was particularly effective out of the slot, with his Yards per Route Run average of 2.10 the fifth best mark among all wide receivers.
2012 was his first season with Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson and, despite seeing his production drop, with Tate and Sidney Rice seeing more targets, and producing more receptions, yards and touchdowns, he was still able to contribute. He may have racked up just 366 receiving yards, but he made his impact in other ways, with the sixth-best blocking grade of any receiver in the league. Now, obviously, blocking is nowhere near the top of the list of qualities you are looking for in a receiver, but it’s worth noting that while he wasn’t seeing as much of the ball, he was still willing to do whatever the team asked of him.
The Super Bowl season in 2013 brought Baldwin much more joy as a receiver. Seeing 73 passes thrown his way, he pulled in 50 for 778 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season. Once again he was a slot superstar, with his YPRR average of 1.93 the sixth best at wide receiver. More importantly for Seattle, his best work came when it mattered most. In the playoffs he caught 13 of the 15 passes thrown his way, with no drops, as he lead the team with 202 yards, with the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl being his best two-game stretch all season in terms of both receiving grade, and yards.
With that in mind it’s no surprise that the Seahawks felt confident in Baldwin and, despite drafting Paul Richardson in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, they counted on Baldwin to be their No. 1 receiver. Seeing 90 passing thrown his way, he pulled in a career best 825 yards in the regular season. Ultimately, many will see his 2014 season as a disappointment for a a team’s top option at receiver, but in that Seahawks’ offense, it was enough to keep them going. Once again he was sixth in the league in YPRR from the slot, this time at 1.67, an area he has continued to excel in throughout his career.
We know that the Seahawks have made a big splash on offense this offseason, adding tight end Jimmy Graham via a trade with the New Orleans Saints. That’s huge for Seattle, particularly in the redzone, but it will be interesting to see how it impacts Baldwin, particularly in terms of output from the slot. Graham’s YPRR average of 1.87 from here was higher than Baldwin’s in 2014, and he hasn’t had a YPRR average from the slot of lower than 1.79 in each of the past three seasons.
Baldwin will also have to battle with the younger players at the position, with Richardson surely aiming for a higher output in year two. Meanwhile, the Seahawks added Tyler Lockett through the draft, a player we were extremely high on during College Football Focus and in our preparation for the 2015 NFL Draft. A versatile weapon, he had the third-most yards on deep passes in this draft class, and the third-highest YPRR average at 3.64.
Still, what we’ve seen out of Baldwin in his first four seasons in the league, is that he doesn’t have to be the team’s No. 1 receiver to be effective. He can be second fiddle to Graham and is the type of player that both Richardson and Lockett should be looking to learn from early in their young careers.
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