It's been almost two years since the infamous comments from Cris Carter that alleged that Seattle's receivers were mere "appetizers" for their Super Bowl XLVIII game against the Denver Broncos, a contest that would surely be won by Peyton Manning and his main course of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker. I guess Carter forgot to mention that oftentimes the apps are better than the entrees.
Like, who doesn't want some muhfuggin' nachos supreme and hot wings? (I've been to Archie Manning's sports bar in New Orleans and trust me, there isn't much on the lunch or dinner menu worth trying. Just a helpful travel tip for your old friend, Guy Fiarthur.)
After the Seahawks won the game 43-8, Carter tried to backpeddle, but realizing that he was a receiver and not a cornerback, he failed at that too. "They're Super Bowl champions. They deserve that ... They need to be concerned with OTAs next year when he's back to being the third or fourth guy," said Carter.
Oof. Carter may have wanted to check himself prior to finding out that he doth just wrecked thy self.
Through five seasons now, Baldwin has 86 more catches, 1,001 more yards, and two more touchdowns than what Carter had through five seasons. And Baldwin was an undrafted free agent, not a fourth round supplemental pick like Carter. Carter was a 6'3 receiver from Ohio State, not a 5'10er from Stanford. If anything, Baldwin should be praised for being the appetizer that eats like an entree. "It comes with six sliders? Wow, what a steal!"
Through five seasons, Carter was soup. "That's not dinner, mom!"
It's not even so much that Carter was unable to predict the future -- that Baldwin would explode in the second half of his fifth season to finish with 14 touchdowns and 1,069 yards -- it's that a Hall of Fame wide receiver wasn't capable of recognizing the receiving talent that was already being put on display right then and there. That's really the only part that's disturbing about Carter's comments.
If he was your wide receivers coach, he might advise the front office that Baldwin was expendable. "Hey Pete, Baldwin didn't have 1,200 yards, let's trade him for Plaxico Burress. He probably deserves another ... shot."
Thank God he's not a coach though, right?
In 2013, Baldwin finished with 50 catches for 778 yards and five touchdowns. That's some pedestrian shit right there, yeah? Except that not-coach Carter has obviously never heard of Football Outsiders or even like, Pro-Football-Reference, I guess. I mean, in some cases, ESPN.com probably would have worked too. Let's start with the simple stuff.
Baldwin was targeted 72 times that year, meaning he caught 69.4% of his targets. How many receivers that season had a higher catch rate with at least 60 targets? One: Julian Edelman, who caught 69.5% of his targets. The main difference was that Edelman was targeted more (a lot more, twice as much), but he also had just 10.1 YPC compared to 15.6 YPC for Baldwin.
That's not easy to do; Over the last three seasons, there have been just 41 instances of a player catching at least 50 passes with at least 15 YPC, including Baldwin, and almost none of them would be considered anything less than a number one or two receiver. It's not like I am saying that Baldwin was a top-10 receiver in 2013 ...
But I would let Football Outsiders say something like that.
Per FO, Baldwin was second in DVOA in 2013 and 13th in DYAR. Now, there are problems with DVOA (Kenny Stills was first in DVOA) but that doesn't mean it doesn't symbolize that Baldwin (and Stills) caught a lot of important passes that season. Catching a high rate of targets and turning those targets into an average of 15 yards per catch means that you're quite valuable when targeted.
Baldwin had more DYAR that season than Alshon Jeffery, Dez Bryant, and AJ Green. Was he better than those players? Probably not. But he deserved more praise than being tossed aside like lemon-flavored Mambas.
You just can't get strawberry, raspberry, and orange in one package. You just can't!
He also had, by some estimates, just two drops on those 72 targets. It's fair to say that's probably accurate given the consistency of most sites to say that Baldwin drops a very low rate of balls every season. We've also seen him make some pretty incredible catches over the years, even if he didn't do it (before now) at such a volume as to produce 1,000-yard seasons.
It's not so much that Carter couldn't predict the future, it's that he couldn't even diagnose the present. That's what was disturbing about those comments, as well as the one that followed the Super Bowl that assumed Baldwin's career was still coming to an end within a couple of years. That's significantly bad analysis for a guy that's not only supposed to be an expert, but played wide receiver for like 40 years.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I have not been Baldwin's biggest supporter over his career and that I've told people multiple times that he's "not a number one receiver" or that he's "a great slot receiver and that's all he'll ever be." I still don't know how untrue either of those statements are, but it's clear Baldwin isn't going anywhere any time soon. It's not so much that you should ever overreact to a seven or eight-game sample size, but when you factor in Baldwin's first four-and-a-half seasons (and before the Super Bowl that year, I did write at least one article about how good the Seattle receivers were "beneath the classic numbers") with the fact that Russell Wilson seem to be a different player within the pocket now, it's obvious that Baldwin's future could be brighter than we'd ever imagined.
Take a look at probably the best comp for Baldwin through five seasons that you'll find with any player:
Not only are the numbers extremely similar, but Baldwin and Smith are basically the exact same size. You can see that Smith played in fewer games, meaning he produced more per game, but at the end of the day the catch rates and Y/C are close to identical. Both players took a few years to catch on, and for Smith, he soon became unstoppable.
This year, Baldwin caught 47 balls for 724 yards and 12 touchdowns in the second half of the season. His catch rate was 74.6%. From Week 11 to the end of the year he caught 11 touchdowns. Only a handful of players have ever done that You know who the others are?
Sterling Sharpe. (Had 13, the most ever. Everyone else had 11.)
Oh shit! Hey, Cris Carter, I got some bad news for you, bb: You're an appetizer!
This season, Baldwin finished second in DYAR behind only Antonio Brown and first in DVOA. Nobody caught more touchdowns than he did. He dropped two of 103 targets, one of the lowest drop percentages in the NFL. Going back to 1992, when targets were first recorded for PFR, Baldwin's 103 targets were the third-fewest ever for a player who caught at least 14 touchdowns. There's also the fact that you could argue Baldwin caught another touchdown that was called incomplete and in the final couple of weeks, Wilson was clearly going for Baldwin in the end zone but the two couldn't connect. On one occasion, Baldwin even seemed open but the pass was off target and nearly intercepted.
That sure seems like something that will continue in the playoffs and for seasons to come. He may not be your prototypical number one, but what's "prototypical" about any top receiver these days? Brown might be smaller than Baldwin. TY Hilton too. This might just be the new normal.
Baldwin has one year left on his deal, so an extension may be in order over the offseason. If they allow him to come back next year in a contract season and he puts up 1,400 yards (which doesn't seem far-fetched anymore) he might price himself out of Seattle.
For those wondering about how he'll matchup against the Vikings (though at this point matchups don't seem to matter at all against Baldwin), he caught five of seven targets for 94 yards and two touchdowns in Week 13 against Minnesota.
But wait, there's more...
Of course, Baldwin isn't the only Seahawks receiver that's performed way beyond expectations in the second half of the year. Wilson's historic streak was also aided by the play of Tyler Lockett, the 5'10, 181 lb (Wanna talk about "prototypes" again?) special teams standout who turned into a special team standout.
Over the last 10 games of the year, Lockett caught 39 passes for 526 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught just barely under 80% of his targets, a number that pretty much won't be matched by anyone over that period of time. That's a full season pace of 62 catches, 841 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Pretty good for a rookie but when you include his punt and kick return duties, it becomes pretty good for, well, just about anyone.
Going back to Week 7, Lockett was second in the entire NFL in all-purpose yards behind only Brown. Not all yards are created equal, but when you take a look at his punt return abilities against the Cardinals in Week 17, when he put Seattle in Arizona territory three times on punts, you start to see why he might be the most valuable rookie in the NFL who isn't a quarterback.
My guess is that you'll also see more runs for Lockett at some point, maybe even starting this weekend in Minnesota to try and break free a couple of explosive plays in the cold weather.
Lockett -- who was a third round pick and not supposed to contribute as a receiver -- was 15th in the entire NFL in DYAR and third in DVOA among receivers. Among rookies there was no competition, with Amari Cooper coming in 37th in DYAR and 50th in DVOA. PFF estimated that Cooper dropped 18 passes compared to three for Lockett. Yes, Cooper was targeted more often, but if you think that dropping 13.8% of targets is the same as dropping 4.3%, you must be doing my taxes.
"Yeah, hello, IRS? Yeah, I'm actually on the Wesley Snipes Tax Plan. What? That's not a good thing?"
Between Baldwin and Lockett, that's a number one and a number two option at receiver that rival many other combos in the league. Let's at least take a look at some of their playoff foes:
Better than the Vikings? Absolutely, no question. Better than the Packers? Yes. Better than Washington? If including Jordan Reed, probably not. Even DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon alone may rival any combo in the playoffs. Over the Panthers? Yeah. Over the Cardinals? Probably not. In the AFC, you could put them above New England and Houston. With tight ends, Travis Kelce and Tyler Eifert may give their teams the edge.
This much is definitely true though: You could not call these guys, "pedestrian" or "appetizers." If they are, then John Schneider has the best happy hour in the league.
Ending article now.
But wait, there's even more!
Jermaine Kearse was also an undrafted free agent and like Baldwin, was among the pedestrian receivers on the 2013 Super Bowl team. Kearse caught seven passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns in those playoffs, including a game-saver against the 49ers in the conference title game and another in the Super Bowl. He also caught a touchdown against the Panthers in the playoffs last season, the game-winner against Green Bay in the NFC Championship, and made the most unbelievable catch of the Super Bowl (if only he had a path to the end zone, but c'est la vie.)
Despite all of that, I still did not advocate giving Kearse over $2 million to stick around this season.
He had a knack for making big plays but was not consistent, wasn't much more than a number four receiver, and really played horribly in that game against the Packers despite his overtime heroics. I still don't know that Seattle should (or even will be able to) re-sign him in the offseason, but Kearse has earned himself a nice payday with the strongest season of his career.
In addition to being the best blocking receiver on the team, Kearse has 49 catches for 685 yards and five touchdowns -- That's as many touchdowns as he had in his previous two regular seasons combined. But like Baldwin and Lockett, it's his catch rate that really stands out: 72%.
Over the final four games of the season, Kearse caught 20 of 24 targets (83.3%), 256 yards, and two touchdowns. Prior to that, he caught two touchdowns in that wild game against the Steelers. He finished 19th in DYAR and fifth in DVOA.
You have to remember that Kearse came to the team in 2012, same as Wilson. They've never not known each other as pros.
Think of all the passes that Wilson has thrown to Baldwin and Kearse, in both practices and games, over a four-year period. That's chemistry between QB and receivers that is pretty much unmatched by anyone else in the playoffs.
Kirk Cousins obviously doesn't have that with any of his receivers, having been the backup for most of his career. Not Teddy Bridgewater. Not Carson Palmer. In Green Bay, James Jones left for a year. Obviously, Cam Newton doesn't have it. Patriots are a mishmash with all of their injuries. Bengals are still going with AJ McCarron... Emmanuel Sanders hasn't been with Denver that long. I don't think Brian Hoyer has ever even played with the same receiver for more than a season on any team. Alex Smith doesn't have it. Martavis Bryant is only in his second season for the Steelers.
So there you have it. No experience really rivals what Wilson, Baldwin, and Kearse have. Lockett is just implanting himself in there like he's "one of the guys" and that's how it always was.
You know that high school team that was not competing for the last three years but suddenly every single player on the roster is a senior? And some of them have been playing sports together since they were eight? So in a way their bond of knowing what the other guy is going to do before he does it, or without having to say it, overcomes any lack of talent they might have compared to guys that are bigger, faster, stronger? That's sort of what Seattle's passing game is right now, with Lockett as the upstart freshman who was recruited from a neighboring town and moved in with his grandmother just so he could get in the proper zone.
What I'm saying is that the Seahawks have good receivers. Better receivers than anyone would have ever expected. Good enough perhaps to even help get them on a deep playoff run and if they manage to make their third straight Super Bowl, Cris Carter might say ...
Well, you know what Cris? Maybe just keep the lips zipped this time around. Being able to identify which receivers are "appetizers" is nacho strength.