Fooch's Note: Awesome work on this FanPost...particularly for a first FanPost! Welcome!
I know a lot of us are curious about the Niners' newest receiver, Jonathan Baldwin. I'm sure most of us have heard his stat-line from last year: 20 catches on 47 targets (only 43% catch rate!) for 325 yards and one touchdown. But I really wanted to go a little deeper than the numbers, and take a look at the film to get a better picture of what this guy could potentially offer to the 49ers, and what his weaknesses are. So I thought I'd take my handy-dandy NFL Game Rewind subscription (best purchase ever, BTW), and check out his film from last year. And then hey, why not make this into my first Niners Nation fanpost? So let's get into it.
One caveat here is that we're only looking at the times the quarterback attempted to pass it to Baldwin. It could well be that he was only thrown to 47 times last year because he struggled getting separation from the DBs, or he frequently ran the wrong route (we'll get to that later). To analyze that, you'd have to go through every passing play, which would be an interesting exercise, but definitely beyond the scope of this post.
The first thing I noticed when going through the tape, is that the Chiefs' quarterbacks were just awful last year. Of the 27 incompletions to Baldwin, at least 20 of those just looked like bad throws by the QB, mostly overthrows on deep routes. But beyond that, there were several important observations about Baldwin that I was able to make.
First observation: Baldwin is huge. He already sounds big at 6'4" 230 lbs., but he just looks humongous on film. I think if Baldwin had been running Chad Hall's corner route in the end zone last week, Kaepernick's pass would have hit him in the gut, maybe lower. Baldwin also seems to do a pretty good job using that size to get balls that other wide receivers would not be able to reach, and also to shield the DB from being able to make a play on the ball. Let's look at a couple of examples.
Example #1: Going Up High in New Orleans
In this first play, Baldwin lines up to Cassel's right, in a 4-WR formation with the other three wideouts on the left of the formation. He runs about a 10-yard in-route over the middle, and Cassel throws it so high that Baldwin has to leap and fully extend to grab the ball:
And then come down with it:
He made several other similar catches last year, showing good extension and good hands to go up and get balls thrown high, where no one else was going to be able to reach them. In fact, later in this same game, he makes another great catch on a ball that Cassel throws high while scrambling to his left, away from pressure.
Example #2: Baldwin Using His Body to Box-Out the Defender
This comes in the Chiefs game against the Colts in week 16 of last season. Here they line up Baldwin and #84 on the left side, then send 84 in motion to the right, leaving Baldwin alone on the left. You can see the corner gives Baldwin a pretty good cushion on this play:
Baldwin's going to run forward about four yards, then break toward the middle on a short slant pattern. The corner reads it pretty quickly, and starts to break toward Baldwin:
The pass is thrown perfectly to Baldwin's left side, away from the closing defender, which causes Baldwin to stop and use his body to shield away the defender, who ends up draped all over him:
They actually ran this same route against the Panthers (one of only two games the Chiefs won), and it resulted in a 3-yard touchdown, Baldwin's only touchdown of the season.
Example #3: One-Handed Grab?
One curious thing about Baldwin's tape from last year was his penchant for trying to make one-handed catches. I counted four instances where Baldwin attempted (unsuccessfully) to make seemingly impossible one-handed catches on balls thrown high. I don't know if he was just looking to make the highlight reel, or if the balls were just thrown so high that he couldn't get both hands up that high to reach them. I wanted to show one of these instances here, because it also provides a good example of Baldwin's difficulties catching deep balls.
The Chiefs threw it deep to Baldwin about half the time, with 14 (per my count) of those attempts being simple fly routes. Of those 14, Baldwin only caught 2 for a total of 60 yards. Most of those were just bad throws, but there were some cases where Baldwin probably could have done a better job locating the ball and timing his jump. Here's one of those cases:
Here we have Baldwin lined up left at the top of the screen, as usual, with the corner in what looks like press coverage, though he ends up backing up a couple yards just before the ball is snapped. They have what looks like Cover Two over the top, but you'll see that the safeties end up leaving Baldwin one-on-one with the corner, which is just what Brady Quinn was looking for:
As the ball comes in, Baldwin, stops, turns, and jumps to catch it:
Unfortunately for Baldwin, he jumped a little early, and ends up having to try to catch the ball one-handed, which doesn't work out so well:
I know it's probably hard to tell from the frames, but in real-time when you watch it, it looks pretty bad. The announcers even got after Baldwin for this one, pointing out that if he had just kept running, he probably would have been able to catch the ball.
Another thing Baldwin did struggle with at times was running the proper route. This is something that's always hard to discern just from studying the film, as it's difficult to tell whether the receiver ran the wrong route, or the quarterback just read the play wrong. Also, since we're only looking at plays where the quarterback threw the ball in Baldwin's direction, we can't see how many times the QB didn't throw it his way on account of him running the route. That being said, I counted at least two times where it looked like Baldwin ran the wrong route. On one of those, during the Raiders' win over the Chiefs in KC, Baldwin ran an in-route and Cassel threw it like he was expecting Baldwin to go deep. The pass was intercepted, and Cassel chewed out Baldwin quite extensively. He's like, "Come on, man! I'm good enough at turning the ball over by myself, I don't need your help!"
Overall, just from studying Baldwin's targets from last year, I think the 49ers are getting a wide receiver with some serious potential. He's got a big body, he knows how to use it to shield off defenders, and he seemed to have really good hands, despite what we saw last week in the preseason game. He does appear to have some issues with his route-running, and maybe timing his jumps on the deep balls, but if he's able to correct some of those issues, I think he could be a solid contributor this year, and a big target for Kaep in the red zone.