Dating back to 1992, only three players have caught at least 65% of their targets (minimum 400 targets) with at least nine yards per target. One of them is Jordy Nelson, who has an NFL-best 10.25 Y/T in that time frame with an exceptional 67.1% catch rate. Playing for Aaron Rodgers, the oft-undisputed best QB in the NFL, Nelson averaged 1,210 yards and 11 touchdowns per season from 2011 to 2014 and the fact that he has only ever made the Pro Bowl once just goes to show how stacked that position is right now. Yet, Nelson has managed to basically make his average every time he's targeted a "first down." That's amazing.
The second of those guys is Rob Gronkowski, who averages 9.59 Y/T on a catch rate of 65.6%. Drafted in the second round (like Nelson) in 2010, Gronkowski is considered by some to be the most valuable player in the NFL. He caught 10 touchdowns as a rookie and then followed that up with 17 touchdowns in 2011. He has caught nine touchdowns in 10 playoff games and the Patriots are 5-1 when he scores in the postseason. The 6'6, 265-pound tight end makes New England virtually unstoppable on offense when he's facing a defense that doesn't have a defender who can guard him, and so few teams have a guy like that.
The third, which should come as no surprise by now, is Doug Baldwin.
The undrafted free agent out of Stanford in 2011 has a career catch rate of 67.2% (a smidge higher than Nelson and good mark above Gronk) with an average gain per target of 9.38 yards. The only other player who even averages 9 yards per target with a catch rate over 60% is Julio Jones. Through five seasons, Baldwin can't claim to be on the same level as those other guys. Jones, Nelson, and Gronkowski are idolized by many not only because they make amazing catches (Baldwin does that a lot, actually) and not just because they're efficient (clearly, Doug belongs in that conversation too) but because they are used very frequently. That has to count for something.
Pete Carroll is smart. If Carroll thought that increasing his playcalls for Baldwin by 25% or so over the last five years wouldn't greatly diminish a Y/T that is higher than marks by guys like Antonio Brown, Jeremy Maclin, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, Torry Holt, Dez Bryant, and hundreds more, then certainly he would have called for more plays to Baldwin. However, it doesn't mean that an increase for Baldwin isn't coming.
Or that it hasn't already begun.
Over the last eight games last season, Baldwin was targeted 63 times, which was tied as the 21-most for any player over that period of time. That might not seem like a lot but you have to remember that we now live in a world where players are regularly targeted 160 times per season and not always because they are good. Not everyone can be Antonio Brown, who was targeted 116 times over the final eight games and still managed a catch rate of 72.4%!
However, it wasn't just that Baldwin started getting targeted more in 2015, but that when he was targeted, he did more with those opportunities than most NFL players.
Over the last eight games, Baldwin was targeted 63 times, and he caught 74.6% of those (third-highest for a player with at least 60 targets), and he gained 11.42 Y/T (first among receivers with at least 50 targets), and 12 touchdowns (NFL-best.) If he played that way over a full season, Baldwin would have 94 catches, 1,448 yards, and 24 touchdowns.
(By the way, Jermaine Kearse caught 75.7% of his targets over the final eight games while Tyler Lockett caught 75.6%.)
Repeatable? Probably not -- especially the touchdowns -- but the catches and yards might exist within the ballpark of what a number one receiver could do in the Seattle Seahawks offense over the next few seasons should Russell Wilson continue to pass at a higher volume. Given how well that relationship seemed to blossom last year between Wilson and those aforementioned receivers, it seems likely that the volume will increase. Especially if said receivers continue to catch everything thrown their way. It's Baldwin in particular who has used his experience and skills to gain Wilson's trust the most, so therefore that is who you would expect will benefit the most moving forward as far as the receivers are concerned; why not when he's playing at a historic pace for efficiency?
Baldwin has the fifth-highest catch rate for a wide receiver through five seasons since 1992:
|Name||Catches||Targets||Catch rate||Yards per target||Targets per game|
What's abundantly evident from the data is that you can't measure the quality and value of a receiver by any one number. Look at how Welker had the highest catch rate but the lowest yards per target of the seven receivers listed above. Nelson had the highest Y/T of any player here by far, but was targeted the least, not becoming a regular in Green Bay's offense until his fourth NFL season.
And you'll also notice that comparatively, Baldwin has done quite well for himself.
Did you have any idea that he measures up quite nicely through five seasons to Wayne? He may not be as valuable as Bryant, but then again, is the pure volume of attempts in Pittsburgh as opposed to Seattle the most significant difference between the two receivers once you notice that Baldwin gains over a half-yard more per target than the All-Pro wideout?
I mean, 9.38 Y/T is the seventh-highest such number for any receiver through their first five seasons since 1992, behind only Nelson, Santana Moss, Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones, Rob Gronkowski (going to include a TE here), and Torry Holt. He's literally just ahead of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. That doesn't necessarily prove a lot about his future (also in the top 30 here are Lee Evans, Bill Schroeder, Javon Walker, and Ashley Lelie) but it's certainly encouraging if you're ready to believe that the Seahawks offense is going to be a more pass-forward unit as they transition into the next phase of Wilson's career.
They haven't committed all this money into Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Jimmy Graham just to have them block for the running game. And certainly at this point it's reasonable to assume that if Baldwin was able to score 14 times a year ago, they think that something might be working there to try and duplicate that success. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him score four times either, but Pete Carroll obviously is going to at least try and see if the magic is repeatable.
If it is, then no longer will Baldwin stand a step or two below guys like Jones, Brown, Nelson, and Gronkowski. Maybe he shouldn't have been to begin with.