In between the draft dust settling and the NFL season getting under way, there are always bold predictions about kids that catch eyes, turn heads and spark debate amongst NFL fans and critics alike.
In the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs grabbed one of these players in Jonathan Baldwin.
Baldwin wasn't the highest-profile wide receiver coming out in this year's draft; he didn't have the "freak" label that Georgia's A.J. Green had, nor was he the crisp route-runner that Alabama's Julio Jones was in college.
What he was, though, was a 6'4", 230-lb. wide receiver out of Pitt with great hands who ran a sub-4.5 in the 40-yard dash and leaped for an incredible 42" vertical—tops among all wide receivers in his class—in the NFL scouting combine this offseason.
This young man has the physical tools to stand up to the top receivers in the game, and he's also going to be afforded the luxury of playing opposite Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs' top and only real wide receiver to speak of. The combination of these two talents could be deadly for all of the Chiefs' opposition for years to come.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley finds himself in a situation not unfamiliar to him. He has an upstart veteran wide receiver coming into his own in Dwayne Bowe that will now be coupled with a brand-new big, physical and sure-handed counterpuncher just waiting to show the world what he has to offer in rookie wideout Jonathan Baldwin.
When Haley was the offensive coordinator on the Arizona Cardinals' staff, he had an established Larry Fitzgerald paired with a blossoming No. 2 guy by the name of Anquan Boldin. At the time, Larry had already answered questions that Bowe is still facing—Larry was more sure-handed than Bowe is right now—but Boldin was very raw and physically similar to what Baldwin will be come game time.
Haley had role players in tight end Leonard Pope and slot receiver Steve Breaston to complete the illusion, and he turned them into Super Bowl contenders with a QB in the twilight of a make-or-break career. The rest of that story is history.
Now Haley is the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, and he has the task of setting up the future of the Chiefs organization. After a successful 2010 campaign, he seems to be on the right track. The Chiefs won their first division title since 2003, winning 10 games, and they did it with the league's 30th-ranked passing attack led by the league's best running game.
The Chiefs also have a young but stout defense in place. Cornerback Brandon Flowers is blossoming into one of the NFL's top young CBs, and 2010 rookie Eric Berry made the Pro Bowl in his first year. Add to that the wide-eyed QB chaser Tamba "the sack machine" Hali, Glenn Dorsey on the end and LB Derrick Johnson, who tackles anything that tries to run by him, and the defense is in great shape.
They just need some help staying off the field a little more than they did in 2010. Despite winning the division, the Chiefs still had an anemic passing game that left the defense sucking wind when the fourth quarter came rolling around. That's where Baldwin comes into play.
Baldwin brings a big, sure-handed target who isn't going to be double-covered on every down like Bowe was on almost every play last season. On top of that, if and when he becomes a regular target and starts catching balls, he'll take some heat away from Bowe.
This will help to keep the chains moving and put a stop to the overabundance of stalled drives, which will result in more red-zone attempts. This is where this acquisition will really come in handy.
Inside the 20-yard line, the Chiefs already have four big threats for touchdown scoring: Jamaal Charles or Thomas Jones, sophomore tight end Tony Moeaki and the aforementioned Pro Bowl wideout Dwayne Bowe. Jones and Charles were too easily defended in the red zone since doubling Bowe and keeping linebackers in the middle for Moeaki pretty much took care of the passing threat.
Enter Jonathan Baldwin. He adds a whole new dimension to the passing game, especially in the red zone. No longer is doubling Bowe an option with a jump-ball threat on the other side of the field too. Crossing routes and quick outs are also a possibility. Everything is brand new, as long as Baldwin is the receiver that I—and Scott Pioli—believe he will be.
Call this speculation if you will, but it's far more than that. The man upstairs—no, not God; Pioli in the booth—sees something special in this guy, and even a blind man can see the upside to having him in the lineup. I'm just waiting for Jonathan Baldwin to show in September—or whenever the season gets under way—what Chiefs fans already expect from this talented young man.