Is Baldwin a Bust?


November 12, 2012; Pittsburgh , PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jon Baldwin (89) drops a pass as he is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor (24) during the second half of the game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 16-13, in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs made Pittsburgh wide receiver, Jon Baldwin, their first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. A lot has changed since then: Todd Haley is no longer head coach, nor, for that matter, the guy that replaced him in Romeo Crennel. And the guy that drafted him, Scott Pioli, yeah, he’s gone too. What has remained consistent, however, is Baldwin’s insistence to underwhelm.

His rookie season was shortened because he got in a fight with a guy that had some of the biggest biceps allowed by God. Not a smart move. But even when he came back, all that flash and potential Baldwin demonstrated at Pitt never showed up on the field in the pros; he couldn’t create separation from corners, he looked like he had no idea what to do in bump-and-run coverage, and cornerbacks quite a bit smaller than him had no problem jamming him at the line of scrimmage.

There were excuses, of course. The lockout shortened season made it hard on rookies. He wasn’t able to develop with the injury and when he did come back he had to have Tyler Palko throw to him. These excuses had their merit, so Chiefs fans practiced patience with Baldwin. In the training camp leading up to last season, and with Bowe holding out after being franchise tagged, Baldwin was the talk of the town. The one-handed catches, the leaping ability, the dives, the speed, the athleticism. They were all on full display, and this mythical chemistry was developing between Baldwin and quarterback Matt Cassel. But that’s all it was: a myth.

As Cassel as the starting quarterback, Baldwin wasn’t on the receiving end of any touchdowns, and his best receiving effort of the year actually came with Brady Quinn as the QB and included just 64 yards receiving. Baldwin’s lone touchdown catch of the season came against the Carolina Panthers. In fact, in Baldwin’s TWO seasons with the Chiefs, he has just 41 catches for 579 yards and 2 touchdowns. The two other wide receivers taken in the first round of the 2011 Draft, A.J. Green and Julio Jones, have combined for 4,564 yards and 36 touchdowns.

The amazing thing of all this might be that in 2011, New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, advised Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff to not trade up for Julio Jones but instead wait for Baldwin to fall to them at pick #27 if he really wanted a wide receiver. As Belichick put it, “he’s just as good”. Maybe that’s why the Patriots have always had trouble developing homegrown wide receiver talent.

With wide receivers, however, the three year rule is even more important than with other positions. Countless studies have been done, and it shows that for a wide receivers development, the third year is a pretty accurate barometer on if that player is going to make it in the NFL or not. This is the time when most receivers seem to finally make the transition to the NFL and install confidence in their quarterback that they will deliver as a quality receiver. And while Baldwin is transitioning to a new quarterback, a new head coach, and a new offense, it’s pretty imperative that he makes an impact on this season that has been lacking thus far in his career.

So, in Baldwin’s third season with the Chiefs, it’s make or break. His success will be the Chiefs success, but his failure will likely result in the Chiefs turning the page on their 2011 first round pick. Untapped potential sometimes remains untapped; let’s hope that isn’t the case with Baldwin. What would I consider a successful year? Even if Baldwin were to match his career stats, it probably still wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the coaching staff or front office. After all, Baldwin is inherited, and not one of their draft picks. So Baldwin better be above the 750 yards receiving/5 touchdown plateau if he wants to stay on and not have that “bust” label attached to him and his remaining tenure in the NFL.  Is that so much to ask?