Doug Baldwin is really good at football. Now feel free to take a moment to gather up your mind which I just blew. Danny says Baldwin "plays angry." Schneider says Baldwin is "smart, tough, and reliable." All true. In addition, we all know about his savvy route running, superb concentration, and impressive body control. But could that really be the whole story?
Let's start with some measurables. Doug ran 4.47 and 4.49 40 times at his Stanford pro-day. That's fast, yet not blazing. He also has some hops with a 37 inch vertical. Finally there's this quote from John Schneider, "The cool thing about him [Baldwin] is that he's got a 75 1/ 4" catching range so that makes him like 6'1." Dougie is 5-9 3/4 inches tall. Dougie has very long arms.
Last night I was watching Baldwin's college highlights (which you can see after the jump) for the gazillionth time when it finally, FINALLY, dawned on me what everyone has been missing. Doug Baldwin is a master accelerator.
There are sharp cuts and then there are smooth cuts. LeSean McCoy of the Eagles has cuts so sharp you could shave Charlie Whitehurst's beard with them (Pulitzer Prize, here I come). If you're a defender attempting to tackle McCoy, you're liable to find yourself frozen in place or grasping at air. Baldwin has cuts of the "smooth" variety.
Smooth cuts are less about the cut and more about the acceleration out of the cut. Doug's cuts are so smooth I can almost hear Marvin Gaye playing in the background (again, Pulitzer). Defenders are mesmerized by Doug's cuts and before they know it,
they have their shirts off he has run by them.
You can see how these cuts are manifested in his route running watching Baldwin burn the beloved Kelly Jennings for 31 yards against the Bengals. In theory this is a fine match-up for Jennings. Make no mistake, Mr. Jennings is fast and sticky in coverage. He should be able to stick with Baldy and isn't in danger of being overpowered. Unfortunately for him, he's caught watching Doug do his thing and Doug easily accelerates by him before displaying his impeccable hops, concentration, and body control.
Those smooth cuts are also apparent with the ball in his hands during his pre-season kick return touchdown against the Broncos. Notice how he glides along the sideline ready to cut-back at just the right moment. Those final two cuts to beat the last defender are damn
sexy smooth. It's almost seamless the way they blend together. I bet that defender didn't even realize there was a second cut until he watched the tape.
I'm sorry to disappoint you all but the smooth cuts are not what I noticed in the highlight video last night. I've known about those for some time. What I noticed was how quickly Baldwin accelerates out of the catch. He literally hits the ground running. With most receivers who catch the ball in open space, there's a moment of hesitation as they turn their head up-field and assess the situation. Baldwin does all that in one fluid motion with no hesitation.
There's a widely accepted belief that a receiver should never think about the run before the catch. Well, Doug Baldwin is that smart-ass who raises his hand and asks the coach "what if you don't have to think about it?"
Watch how he turns this shallow slant into a 55 yard TD against the 49ers in the season opener. He takes one step as he turns his head around and the second step is full-speed-ahead as he feels the green grass in front of him. Now watch the savvy route running on this 29 yard TD against the Rams on Monday Night Football. The pass is behind Baldy but he shows that body control and actually uses it to his advantage by accelerating forward before the pass even arrives.
Finally, I'll leave you with this great, yet unspectacular 13 yard TD against the 49ers toward the end of the season. As soon as I saw that play I somehow knew it exemplified a big reason why Baldwin is so great, but I couldn't figure out what it was... now I know and so do you. Dougie shows concentration going up for a poorly thrown pass and identifies Dashon Goldson, who has read the play and is baring down, before he even touches down. Yet Baldwin doesn't abandon the play and immediately breaks for the sideline.
Doug Baldwin accelerates so suddenly upon hitting the ground that Goldson doesn't stand a chance. I feel like Baldwin is one of only a handful of receivers in the league who could have scored a touchdown in that situation and I'm not sure any other receiver in the league would have scored that TD by sticking to play design, most would have tried to improvise. Doug Baldwin scored that touchdown by sticking to the play design because Doug Baldwin is a master accelerator.