Will Baldwin ‘make’ or ‘break’ for the Chiefs?


December 02, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jon Baldwin (89) signs autographs for the fans before the game against the Carolina Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I have wrote about this subject before, but when I saw a former NFL scout and a current NFL writer talk about it on Twitter, I figured I’d pass along what was said to you. The subject: the make or break season for the Chiefs wide receiver Jon Baldwin.

The former NFL scout you might know on twitter as @NFLosophy. He is a self-proclaimed “former NFL Ops Coordinator,” and while he wishes to remain anonymous on the social networking site, his tweets and the blog he has recently started running to put his thoughts on a larger format suggest he really knows his stuff. So, assuming he is what he says he is, which I believe he is, I found it very interesting to see what he had to say about Baldwin.

Here’s what he wrote:

When I look at Jon Baldwin on film, the first thing that sticks out to me is his size. He’s 6-4, 228lbs. of muscle and tested well at the combine. Just by looking at him and his athleticism, Baldwin should be a monster at wide receiver. He’s the type of receiver that offensive coordinators salivate over and cornerbacks don’t want to face.

Somewhere between the lines, that size and athleticism hasn’t translated. Baldwin simply hasn’t looked physically superior to anyone that he’s faced. Baldwin shows flashes of being a receiver that will go after the ball no matter where it’s at. He’s been a bit stone-handed in his two years in the league, though I give him a little bit of a break as his quarterbacks rarely threw balls on target or on time. Football Outsiders has Baldwin at a 43% catch rate in 2012. It’s hard to continue to make excuses for Baldwin as he was out performed by fellow Chiefs receivers who possessed far less physical talent.

Verdict: Make. After all that, I still think Baldwin will come through this season as a success. There are two major reasons aside from his physical make-up: coaching and quarterback. Alex Smith will easily be the best quarterback that Jon Baldwin has played with in the NFL. Smith isn’t a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s smart and he’s accurate. Just as importantly, Baldwin will finally get the NFL coaching that his physical skills deserve. For as much as Andy Reid is known as a QB guru, not enough attention has been given to how he consistently churns out good wide receivers. Freddie Mitchell should have been thanking Reid and not his own hands for any success he had in the NFL.

His optimism is encouraging, considering that Chiefs fans have had very few reasons to be encouraged by Jon Baldwin since he came into the league as the team’s first round pick in 2011, and the fact that he sees an emergence around the corner should leave you feeling even more excited about our rejuvenated offense. But then someone had to come in and rain on our parade.

Doug Farrar, a writer for Yahoo Sports, responded back to NFL Philosophy about Baldwin with far less optimism about his future. He said “I had major issues with Baldwin all the way back to his Pitt tape. I didn’t see it.” And in case you doubted his doubt, he linked his article about Baldwin leading up to the 2011 Draft. This is some of what he wrote:

Pros: Presses off the line and gets up to speed pretty impressively for his size; could be an asset on slip screens. Will jump and catch in traffic even when he knows the big hit is coming, and he’s an imposing target when he gets vertical. Will stretch for passes downfield and can do so without losing a lot of speed — potentially devastating on 9-routes for that reason. Will physically overwhelm smaller defenders inside on slants, digs, and posts. Succeeded in a Pitt program with a limited passing game, generally unspectacular quarterbacks, and his role as the primary target of most every pass defense he faced.

Cons: Tends to struggle with his body control on tight timing routes — understandable to a point, since he’s a tall, high-waisted player, but he looks like he’s on skates at times and that will need to be fixed at the next level. Tends to turn his body instead of moving his feet in place on comebacks. Good inline speed, but doesn’t have that extra gear to accelerate downfield to make tight catches — better at jumping and diving in those cases. Size gets in his way when he tried to juke defenders in space; he doesn’t have especially quick feet to get free in short areas. Not always physical enough when he needs to be — for example, when he’s boxed out downfield by a cornerback, he doesn’t always push and move out or up to stay open. Isn’t quick to turn upfield; his motion is more a half-circle than a quick turn-and-dash.

Conclusion: There are some fairly major issues that pop off the tape when you watch Jon Baldwin, but it’s difficult to know how many of the fundamental issues about his play would have been fixed had he been in a more dynamic offense in which he wasn’t the primary focus. His struggles in the combine drills, however, didn’t help his case — asked to succeed in a neutral environment, Baldwin showed a lot of rust in frills and when trying to catch passes in quick-cut situations. Malcolm Kelly had some of those same issues, and would have benefitted from a team with higher standards and better overall teaching and schematic discipline. Unfortunately, Kelly got the Jim Zorn Redskins, and whatever is it Mike Shanahan’s trying to do these days. Baldwin may need a better environment to succeed in the NFL.

To be fair, Baldwin hasn’t had a very good environment to succeed in the NFL, seeing as his starting quarterbacks have included a who’s who of awful. But then again, Baldwin hasn’t done anything besides tear up training camps to show that he is a legitimate option for the future. And let’s hand it to Farrar, his scouting of Baldwin was pretty spot on. And although Baldwin has outperformed his comparison player, Malcolm Kelly (who was out of the league after two seasons), his future in the NFL is still uncertain.

But let’s not get hung up on the 2011 Baldwin, or even the 2012 Baldwin, what do you think Baldwin is going to do in 2013? Will Baldwin be a ‘make’ or a ‘break.’ Let’s hope the unemployed former NFL Ops Coordinator is right, and Baldwin will be an impact this season.