BY RYAN GAMON
This week’s NFL Draft is the culmination of months of research and scouting for team executives. Height, weight and speed are measured, evaluated and compared.
Sometimes, though, team after team misses a player who can contribute. Doug Baldwin is a testament to that.
The wide receiver went from undrafted free agent to leading the Seahawks in receiving in the Super Bowl. He is one of several overlooked players who had key roles in Seattle’s Super Bowl run. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, members of the team’s elite secondary, were each drafted in the fifth round. Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, like Baldwin, was signed as an undrafted free agent. And Russell Wilson, the quarterback who led the franchise to its first Super Bowl championship, was not drafted until the third round.
Baldwin believes teams and the media pay too much attention to measurables and not enough attention to things that don’t show up on a stat sheet or a stopwatch.
“Honestly, I think the combine is a waste of time,” Baldwin said in a recent email interview of the NFL Scouting Combine, a cornerstone in player evaluation efforts. “The effort should be in film watching, physicals and mental evaluations. If you can play football, you can play football. Measurables at the combine don’t change that.”
Baldwin was passed over in the 2011 draft after playing football for four years at Stanford, where he led the Cardinal in receiving yards and touchdowns in a 12-1 season that included an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. But success couldn’t overcome one pesky fact: Baldwin is 5 feet 10, undersized for an NFL receiver. His production was ignored because talent evaluators were hung up on his height.
Three years later, his statistics have proven doubters wrong. Baldwin is averaging 43 receptions and 644 yards for one of the NFL’s most run-heavy offenses. He totaled at least 50 receptions and 778 yards twice, and was second on the Seahawks in receptions and yards in 2013. He led all Seahawks receivers in the Super Bowl with five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown, and made several big plays that set up crucial scores in playoff wins over New Orleans and San Francisco.
Baldwin believes the mental aspect of the game is more important than people think. Playing instinctive football – intuitive, is the word Baldwin uses – is one of the most important traits a player can have, though, it’s not necessarily something a player is born with.
“Instincts are learned on the football field through experience,” he said. “It’s vital in sports because things happen so rapidly that you have to rely on your instincts at times to make quick decisions. Good instincts are vital to longevity in the NFL.”
Wilson serves as a great example. The Seahawks’ quarterback is a shade under 5-11 and fell to the third round of the 2012 draft because of that. Yet Wilson has great instincts and is now widely regarded one of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the NFL.
Baldwin also considers emotion a critical – and undervalued – part of football, and something most players struggle to master.
“It can distract you from focusing on your task and be detrimental in a player’s performance,” Baldwin said. “If harnessed correctly, it can move a player into what we call ‘the zone’.”
The Seahawks may be the most emotionally charged team in the NFL, but what some consider bothersome baggage Baldwin considers positive energy.
“That emotion is required to play this game at a high level,” he said. “Anyone who plays sports knows that. The world is so appalled to see it on TV, but (people) hide behind the comfort of their own doors and do the same thing. People should view these showings as being human and highly competitive.”
Perhaps the success of Baldwin and the Seahawks will force teams to look beyond the measurables at this year’s draft and start looking for players who can help them win football games, regardless of size or speed. Players who can play football instinctively and with emotion.
Players like Doug Baldwin.
Ryan Gamon, 19, just finished his freshman year at the Arizona State University. He graduated from Sumner High School in Pierce County and hopes to become a sports journalist.
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