Doug Baldwin: Best Early-Round Value of 2018? (Fantasy Football)
Back-to-back championships in my league of record gave me a two-title lead in the all-time standings and a big head entering the summer draft prep season for the 2017 campaign. With my confidence at an all-time high and a comfortable cushion in the quest for the most league titles, I decided to be a bit cavalier with my draft strategy to try a few things I would usually not do.
Although predicting touchdowns is often an exercise in futility and the production from one season to the next is not necessarily a smart move, I identified two wide receivers to target in the early rounds based on what I perceived as the most logical players to reach double-digit touchdowns. This particular league is a standard format in which touchdowns are king and yardage and catches are not as valuable. Also, I am a firm proponent of building a core roster of consistent players who provide a solid floor each week with the possibility of enormous upside based on their touchdown scoring prowess.
As you probably deduced by the tone of this intro, my move did not pan out, as Mike Evans and Jordy Nelson, the players whom I drafted with my first two picks, did not live up to my predictions and my team crashed and burned. Not only did I miss the playoffs for the first time in three years, but I also finished dead last and will be the recipient of our toilet bowl trophy when we hold our live draft in August.
Nelson caught six touchdowns in his first four games with Aaron Rodgers, yet his value came plummeted when Rodgers broke his collarbone. Evans did not reap the benefit of having DeSean Jackson take away coverage in the secondary, and Jameis Winston failed to take that next step.
In hindsight, the error in my logic was not just rooted in trying to predict touchdowns, but instead using my first two picks touchdown-reliant players at a position like wide receiver in a year in which running backs burst back onto the scene. I zagged with the market zigged, and unfortunately, my zagging left me with a weak lineup and no chance of making a three-peat.
In 2018 I still plan on targeting players who are touchdown scoring threats like Evans and Davante Adams, but I am also putting more focus on solid players in good offenses that can see sizable target increases in both the middle of the field and the red zone. One such player is Doug Baldwin, someone who has often been on my do-not-draft list based on his inability to be a consistent fantasy wide receiver. The former Stanford Cardinal finished as a top-12 wide receiver in two of the last three seasons, highlighted by a career-best 14 touchdowns in 2015.
Despite his solid production, Baldwin has never been a top-12 wide receiver based on consistency scores, as the majority of his points have come in small spurts mixed in with subpar performances. I have always targeted historically consistent wide receivers early in the draft, making Baldwin a persona non-grata on my draft boards.
But as an owner licking his wounds from a rough 2017 season, I decided to give No. 89 another look based on some interesting things that have transpired this offseason in Seattle. The Seahawks opted to not resign tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Paul Richardson, leaving 176 targets up in the air for the remaining skill position players to absorb in 2018.
General manager John Schneider signed Jaron Brown from the Arizona Cardinals, and Amara Darboh is thought to be a talented young WR who may take the next step, but neither player is a significant threat to starters Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. I do like Lockett’s skill set and talent, yet his inability to stay healthy and small stature limit his value in the offense.
The most significant question is where will Graham’s 96 targets and league-best 26 red zone targets go next year? Tight end Nick Vannett is a nice young player, and he and Wilson appeared to have a rapport at times in 2017. More passes out of the backfield to running backs C.J. Prosise and J.D. McKissic is also a possibility, but the former is an injury waiting to happen, and the latter is stuck behind Chris Carson and Mike Davis on the depth chart.
Assuming that the Seahawks do not use an early pick to grab Calvin Ridley or another top rookie in the draft, my money is on Baldwin taking a step up into the 130 to 150 target range for the first time in his career, while taking on a more significant role in the red zone. With a catch percentage of 70.25% and 13.4 yards per reception average over his last four seasons, 140 targets for Baldwin would result in an estimated stat line of 98 catches for 1,313 yards. Predicting touchdowns is a much more difficult task, but stating out nine TDs is not at all unreasonable for a guy who posted 14, seven, and eight over the past three seasons while never topping 125 targets.
At his current ECR ranking as the 28th overall player and the 12th wide receiver off the board in the third round, Baldwin is an excellent value based on his perceived jump in volume and target share. If he can break with his trend as an inconsistent player and provide more top-12 weekly performances, Baldwin just might be the steal wide receiver of the third round, over players like Adam Thielen, Tyreek Hill, and T.Y. Hilton.