Last season proved to be a watershed year for Doug Baldwin, who finally started to get the appreciation he deserved as one of the league’s best receivers, having been one of the most efficient receivers since he entered the NFL in 2011. In his first career 1,000-yard season (thanks to a career-high 118 targets), Baldwin broke 20 tackles after the catch, averaged 5.1 yards after the catch per reception, and led the league with a passer rating of 141.0 when targeted.
However, something is still holding Baldwin back in the minds of many onlookers, and barring a boost in performance and production to Antonio Brown levels, likely always will. Baldwin is only 5-foot-10, and in the minds of many that simply doesn’t fit the profile of an elite receiver. The Seahawk, though, is far from limited to being a slot receiver due to his size. Only Sammy Watkins (eight) scored more touchdowns on deep passes (20+ yards in the air) than Baldwin last season. In terms of work after the catch, Baldwin’s yards after the catch per reception was only a shade below short-game specialist Jarvis Landry. Working between the numbers, Baldwin caught 86 percent of the passes targeted between the numbers, dropping only one. Far from being limited by his height, he is one of the league’s most well-rounded receivers in spite of not possessing the measurables that many perceive as pre-requisites to be considered a No. 1 or “elite” wide receiver.
After Marshawn Lynch’s retirement, you can see a shift coming with the Seahawks’ offense to put more of an emphasis on Russell Wilson’s arm. It began last season, and Baldwin is a huge reason that the Seahawks are able to move in that direction. From Week 10 and onwards (including the playoffs), he was the highest-graded receiver in the league, collecting just shy of 850 receiving yards, forcing 12 missed tackles, and leading the NFL with 13 touchdowns in that span, four more than any other receiver in the same time-frame. Only three times in that span did Baldwin gain fewer than 50 yards in a game, further highlighting the efficiency that underlines his play; he may not consistently wow you with the kind of numbers that he put up over the second half of last season, but he will rarely go missing and let you down if you give him the workload. Baldwin hasn’t caught fewer than 50 percent of the passes targeted at him in a game since Week 17 of the 2013 season, when he was targeted only once.
His production and level of performance over the second half of the 2015 season, paired with the potential to increase his number of targets further in 2016 (Baldwin only played 75 percent of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps last year), are good indicators that he is a receiver on the rise, and that his status in our Top 101 for 2015 and Sam Monson’s 101 best players should just be the start of an impressive run. In an emerging passing game that is looking to stamp its authority on an evolving offense, Baldwin seems ready to take another step forwards in 2016. No longer an efficient receiver on a small sample size, he has proven himself as one of the league’s top targets by not becoming any less efficient in his production and performance in an ever-expanding role in the offense.