October 14, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jon Baldwin (89) runs with the ball as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback E.J. Biggers (31) defends during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Jon Baldwin: Bust Or Blossoming?

The receiver formerly known as Jonathan Baldwin wants to be called “Jon” these days. Kansas City’s former #1 draft pick in 2011, is quietly being called a “bust” in fan circles. Through the first 19 games of Baldwin’s career he has just 36 catches for 467 receiving yards. Jon has just one career touchdown and it came in his second career start in last year’s Halloween matchup with the Chargers (371 days ago to be exact).

Media training camp reports suggested that Baldwin was something like a world-beater this summer. He was reportedly making one circus catch after another and embarrassing Chiefs defenders. We all expected to see that translate to the field when the real bullets started flying in September. Baldwin answered by not recording a catch in a lopsided season opener with the Falcons (he wasn’t targeted that day).

Dwayne Bowe’s future with the Chiefs is uncertain, so fans are a little anxious about the rate of Baldwin’s progress. Fans often forget how difficult it can be for a wide receiver to transition into the NFL game, though. Most of the time it’s a slow burn. Unlike Baldwin, Dwayne Bowe had an immediate impact on the team. I think that’s partly why fans have grown so impatient with Baldwin. We were spoiled by how quickly Bowe’s game matured and translated to the field, but it’s important to remember that he was the exception and not the rule. What might be more aptly called the “Wide Receiver Three Year Rule.”

It’s not uncommon for a young wide receiver to need 1-2 years to get adjusted in the NFL. That doesn’t mean a player at that position can’t come in and contribute right away. I’ve already cited Dwayne Bowe as an example of a rookie who produced from the outset. Others have done the same, but I think fans might be surprised by the list of receivers who needed a year or two to get acclimated to the NFL.

Here’s what I came up with over the last 15 years:

  • Hines Ward
  • Peerless Price
  • Reggie Wayne
  • Steve Smith
  • Santana Moss
  • Marty Booker
  • Plaxico Burress
  • Laveranues Coles
  • Chad Johnson
  • Brandon Marshall
  • Steve Breaston
  • Justin McCareins
  • Javon Walker
  • Jerrico Cotchery
  • Kevin Dyson

That’s quite the list. A list that suggests that wide receivers can and do grow at different rates. Baldwin was said to compare favorably to Brandon Marshall when he was drafted. If he has a similar maturation process, we’ll have one hell of a wide receiver on our hands. I’m not that liberal, but I have seen improvement over his truncated rookie season. He lost time and valuable reps when he broke his thumb in that altercation with former Chief Thomas Jones. He’d already suffered through a lockout where he couldn’t have contact with the team. Expectations may have been too high for Jon Baldwin in his rookie season.

We may never see Baldwin go on to produce like the aforementioned company, but certainly there is reason to reserve judgment. He still has a lot to learn about this game. He still needs time to develop as a football player. Baldwin is also contending with a severely handicapped passing game that is squandering his physical gifts. This offense was designed to stretch the field, but because of Matt Cassel’s limited arm strength and inability to throw the ball down the field (with accuracy), it’s been revised to feature short-to-intermediate pass plays. That’s an offense that isn’t well-suited for where he is as a second-year player. It’s hard to “show up” when all of that is true.

Baldwin has several problem areas that need to be addressed. His route running leaves a lot to be desired. Todd Haley helped Dwayne Bowe in this area during his time as head coach of this team. Taller wideouts can struggle with running tight routes because it’s harder for them to bend and get out of their breaks. He has a tendency to round off his routes, which further limits his ability to be effective underneath. Baldwin also needs to work on cleanly getting off the line. For a guy his size, you wouldn’t expect him to have so much trouble with being jammed by cornerbacks. In short, Jon Baldwin could benefit from more time in Camp Fitzgerald.

Let’s see how things shake out over the next 8 games before we start calling him the b-word. There have been slight improvements to his game. His yards-per-catch average is up, significantly (by two more yards per reception in 2012 — 14.2). I’ve also seen him do an even better job at using his size advantage against smaller defensive backs. He’s always been good at using his body to seal off defenders. I’ve seen him do that a half-dozen times this season. All of that said, there is hope! Now let’s all pray that wide receivers coach Nick Sirianni knows its phone number.

The kid has half of the season ahead of him to make good on the promise of an impressive camp. The forthcoming MNF matchup with Pittsburgh should be a great test for Baldwin. The Steelers boast the league’s #1 pass defense. As they say, “To be the best, you gotta beat the best.” Rumble young man, rumble!

Until next week, Addicts!

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