The Seattle Seahawks’ Forgotten Man: Doug Baldwin

121004-baldwinThe Seattle Seahawks head into the 2013 season as a team with few weaknesses. It seems all signs have pointed up on the forgotten franchise from the Pacific Northwest ever since Paul Allen hired Pete Carroll and John Schneider in 2010. Upon their arrival, the Seahawks new brain trust gutted the roster and began to rebuild in their intended image. They infused the locker room with youth and talent and nurtured a blue-collar mentality. They soon discarded veteran holdovers such as Matt Hasselbeck and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and drafted youthful, franchise cornerstones like Earl Thomas and Russell Okung.

Perhaps more impressive than the first rounder’s though, the Seahawks mid-to-late round draft picks began vastly outperforming their pay grade. In 2011, there was even an undrafted rookie that got in on the action, endearing himself to fans with his hard work, tough mentality, and reliable on-field performances.

Doug Baldwin Jr. was signed by the Seahawks in 2011 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Stanford. As is the case with most undrafted rookies, he was only supposed to be a training camp body. Though Baldwin had seen his share of success in college playing wide receiver for head coach Jim Harbaugh, he somehow slipped through round after round of the 2011 NFL Draft. What must have been particularly painful for him is the fact he was not even drafted by his former head coach who had left Stanford for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers that same season.

Understandably, Baldwin developed a chip on his shoulder and his play reflects that still to this day.

Baldwin is probably best suited to play the slot receiver position, where his short-area quickness and top end acceleration can create matchup nightmares. He is however, also capable of playing on the outside as we saw at times in 2012.  This versatility is what makes him such a valuable part of the Seahawks offense. What he lacks in height, he makes up for with toughness, sheer determination, and precision route running. Yet even with all of this, Baldwin had somehow become a forgotten man heading into the 2013 season. Particularly after Seattle acquired one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL during the offseason in Percy Harvin.

With Harvin onboard, it was fair to wonder where exactly Baldwin would fit into Seattle’s offense. Harvin is arguably the league’s best slot receiver (though he is also capable of lining up all over the field) and comes with a much heftier paycheck and far loftier expectations than his predecessor. All eyes fixed on the Emerald City as analysts across the nation began pegging the Seahawks as a legitimate 2013 Super Bowl contender. Many were waiting to see just how this eclectic group of receivers would look when the dust settled on training camp.

Unfortunately, just one week into camp, Harvin suffered a torn labrum which required surgery. He will not see the field again until at least Thanksgiving. Lucky for Seattle, they have had a reliable fallback plan all along.

Now, once again, Baldwin projects as the Seahawks starting slot receiver. Clearly, the team is disappointed that Harvin will miss the majority of 2013, but they could be much worse at the position. Rumors have spread that a few teams around the league may have inquired about Baldwin, though it is unknown if this happened before or after Harvin’s injury. While Seattle may have considered trading their undrafted receiver prior to the injury, they are clearly in no position to deal him now.

Looking ahead to the season, this receiver group can easily surpass their totals from last year. Russell Wilson is another year wiser and has the luxury of going into this season knowing he is the undisputed starter. Plus, the top three receivers from 2012-Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, and Baldwin-are all returning. It would be hard to know that though, since many analysts are choosing to dwell on what the Seahawks never really had instead of noticing the depths of healthy talent still on the roster. Sure, they will be a much better team when #11 finally makes his debut, but until then, expectations should still soar high in the Pacific Northwest.