In the past it always seemed that rookie wide receivers took a while to adjust to the NFL. The rules are different than college, the coverage is better, QBs usually need a couple years to really connect with receivers, the timing is different, and they are usually not the most athletic player on the field like they were in college. But this year there are three rookie wide receivers who are making a huge difference for their teams: Doug Baldwin, Julio Jones, and A.J. Green.
Pretty much everyone expected Julio Jones to be a beast. Coming out of college Julio Jones had the size, speed (4.39 40), and skill to dominate on a very good Alabama team. He finished 2010 with 78 catches, 1133 yards, and 7 TDs. If you watched him play for the Crimson Tide he was pretty much a man among boys. He was very hard for other teams to cover and had the look of a great NFL receiver. The Falcons gave up a TON to move up and get him with the #6 pick. It was a lot to give up for a receiver but Jones looked to be worth it.
Cincinnati needed to do something to replace Ochocinco and Terrell Owens so they picked A.J. Green with the #4 pick in the draft. He was 6’4″, 207 so he was a bit less physical than Julio Jones but still a stud. He ran a 4.5 40 so he wasn’t a total speed guy but he was a great route runner with good hands who projected to do very well in the NFL. And so far he has been great for the Cincinnati Bengals.
And then we have Doug Baldwin. There were 28 wide receivers taken in the 2011 draft and Doug Baldwin wasn’t one of them. Teams nowadays usually want big, physical receivers and often neglect to look at 5’10”, 189 pound guys like Baldwin. But if you are looking for a great slot receiver this is the type of guy you want. Baldwin’s stats weren’t jaw dropping in college. He had 58 catches for 857 yards in 2010 which is good but nothing that blows you away. Is workouts weren’t anything to knock your socks off either. But the Seahawks saw something and signed him as an undrafted free agent.
How do their stats compare? I’m glad you asked:
A.J. Green and Andy Dalton have been doing excellent for the Bengals and you won’t get much of an argument that he is the best rookie receiver which he should be since he was the #4 pick. And if you have watched Atlanta play this year you would know how talented Julio Jones is. He tore Seattle up with 11 catches for 127 yards and made some amazing catches. He has been slowed down a bit with a hamstring injury the past couple weeks but should be able to pick up right were he left off when he comes back.
But Doug Baldwin? I am pretty sure nobody expected this kind of performance out of him. If they did they would have drafted him. 20 catches and 330 yards are pretty awesome numbers for an undrafted rookie. But if you watched him play and saw these catches in the context of the game you would know how impressive he has been. Baldwin has taken some hard, dirty hits and bounced right back up to make more plays.
There are a couple stats there that really stand out though:
1. 9 20+ yard catches. Through 5 games Doug Baldwin already has 9 catches of 20 or more yards. Last year Mike Williams had 8 all year for the Seahawks. Doug Baldwin is making some big plays for the Seahawks which is something they have been lacking for a couple years now. Only 4 players in the league have more 20+ yard catches than Baldwin. And most of these catches aren’t deep balls. He is catching slants and dig routes and turning them into big plays.
2. 17 first downs. Only three of Baldwin’s catches have not resulted in a first down. That is a first down percentage of 85%! He has been able to keep the chains moving and keep drives alive for the Seahawks.
As Seahawks fans we need to realize how exciting it is to have a player like Doug Baldwin on the roster. He will probably never make the highlight reels like Calvin Johnson or Roddy White or Mike Wallace or even fellow rookies A.J. Green and Julio Jones but Doug Baldwin is showing he is a very valuable member of this team. He isn’t just a roster filler type of guy. If the Seahawks want to win this year and compete for a playoff spot they will need to keep Doug Baldwin an important part of this offense.
Baldwin is also a great compliment to Mike Willams and Sidney Rice. Those two will keep the corners and safetys occupied on the outside while Doug Baldwin rips up the middle of the field. Throw the ball downfield to Rice. Hit Williams back shoulder on the sideline. But when it is 3rd and 8 hit Baldwin coming across the middle.
It is way to early to know where Baldwin will end up. Maybe we have seen his best. Maybe he is just getting started. But through the first 5 games it looks like we found an undrafted gem here.