The transition from college to the big leagues can be a difficult one. There are high-profile examples of this like JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young and Ryan Leaf as obvious reminders and the likes of Jason Smith, Rolando McClain and Aaron Curry to serve as the more subtle, lesser known, reminders.
Then there’s the not-so-well known Jonathan Baldwin, who’s but one more mediocre year away from adding his name to the latter of those two lists.
It’s been an uphill battle for Baldwin from the very start. The time-honoured tradition of hazing rookies reared it’s ugly head, again, and took the 2011 26th overall pick as yet another in a sea of generally voiceless victims. The details are somewhat of a mystery, but from what I can gather it all started with Baldwin’s sticking up for himself as the veterans tried to haze him - in some way, yet unknown. This led to a verbal altercation with Jamaal Charles and before you know it, Thomas Jones comes in and lands what has been described as many as a sucker-punch; it was the first of their altercation. Baldwin responded with some punches of his own and earned a broken thumb for his troubles.
He would miss the entire pre-season and didn’t get back on the field until a week seven game against the Oakland Raiders. Way to hit the ground running.
And his first season seemed to drag on like that for the other ten weeks too. His playing time continued to stagnate and his production, or lack thereof, really did show it. Baldwin finished that season with only 21 catches for 254 yards and one touchdown. The next season didn’t go much better and he now has a grand total of 41 catches for 579 yards and two touchdowns.
While nobody seems to be able to really get a grip on why Baldwin has struggled so mightily in the NFL, almost everybody has weighed in on the excuses front. They generally range from the whole fight with Thomas Jones predicament to misuse by Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel in their offensive gameplans. All of these excuse or explanations, depending on your outlook, are fine and dandy but don’t mean a thing now and certainly won’t come week one.
What the Chiefs need out of Baldwin now is production. It’s long past due that he involve himself in the Chiefs offense and he has all the talent to do it.
Standing at 6’4 and 240 lbs, Baldwin has all the physical tools to dominate, and then some. It just hasn’t happened to this point in his young career. As a matter of fact, there isn’t a scout in the league that wouldn’t describe his absurdly good measurables as the sole reason for his sneaking into the first-round. While Baldwin only ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, his speed is of the deceptive variety and back in his college days this made him a serious deep threat. He also has the hands and frame to survive playing between the numbers.
Where Baldwin has struggled mightily, however, is in the more intricate parts of playing receiver in the NFL. Even coming out of college Baldwin struggled as a route-runner, and that’s yet to change as a pro. His work-ethic and passion has also come into question on several occasions, and there’s also a hint of criticism where his maturity is concerned. Ok, much more than a hint. Regardless, all these things are fixable, we’re all just wondering when or if that will happen with Baldwin.
Maybe this is the year we find out.
Gone are the days of over-hyped and grossly overpaid Matt Cassel. With it went Steve Breaston, Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel and the god-awful offense that was run under Crennel. Enter Alex Smith, and the Chiefs finally have stability at quarterback. While Dwayne Bowe is sure to prove as the chief beneficiary, there will surely be enough left over for Baldwin to cash in.
With Smith though came some competition at wide receiver. Namely, Donnie Avery. Avery isn’t the only receiver that Baldwin will have to jockey with for playing time, as Dexter McCluster remains with the Chiefs. It’s one of the more unsettled and unmentioned training camp battles that has yet to play out.
Should Baldwin win it, he’ll get his chance to prove his worth at the NFL level. Or if there ever was any to begin with.
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV