RENTON – Doug Baldwin is a sporting contrarian. Offer any opinion about his ability, or the ability of his friends, and he’ll show you his opposing view on the football field.
He’ll show you with flair: athletic grabs, stunning speed, respect-garnering toughness. He attacks the game as if his brain is playing all his perceived limitations in a loop.
Too short, too slight, too fragile, too limited, too average.
And then Baldwin presents his counterargument: too good. On the field, his play is as impassioned as a Richard Sherman postgame interview.
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“Let’s be honest: Everyone has got their opinion,” Baldwin says. “It doesn’t mean their opinion is an intelligent one.”
All season, Baldwin has combated the notion that the Seahawks’ wide receivers are pedestrian, that they’re a weak link, that they’re a problem the team must mitigate if it wants to win a championship. The dog in him is an underdog, and he barks loudest when the Seahawks need him most.
But Baldwin has been so good, especially in the playoffs, that the Super Bowl limelight might alter his underrated/underappreciated label. Then he could be forced to agree with the majority opinion.
Baldwin shuns praise as much as he invites criticism.
Did you hear him after the NFC Championship Game? He couldn’t make sense of it. He played his most complete game as a Seahawk, with 215 all-purpose yards. His team earned a Super Bowl berth. Yet Baldwin, the most articulate athlete on a team of well-spoken players, didn’t quite know how to express his joy.
He knew how to fire back at the haters. Classic Baldwin: “It irritates the hell out of me when guys constantly want to talk about receiving, talking about we’re average, we’re pedestrian. Well, guess what? We’re going to walk our ass to the Super Bowl as pedestrians.”
But when it came to talking about his excitement, or even his excellence, he couldn’t explain it.
“I’m at a loss for words,” he said Sunday night, shaking his head.
You’ll never see Baldwin lose his edge, because he’s too fixated on it to look elsewhere. If the 25-year-old goes on to have a wonderful NFL career, he’ll always consider himself the undrafted kid, or the receiver that most think should play a limited role in the slot, or the pedestrian with unattractive shoes.
“I don’t have a chip on my shoulder,” Baldwin says. “I have a boulder on my shoulder.”
But you know what defines him more than that boulder? It’s his knack for making huge plays, often at critical times.
It started this season with his incredible sideline catch against Carolina, one of many great sideline receptions he has made. Then there was the one-handed, 35-yard touchdown catch against Jacksonville, and the twisting, diving 24-yard sideline grab against New Orleans in the divisional playoff round. And the 51-yarder to complete Russell Wilson’s crazy scramble in the NFC title game. And so many more.
“Doug Baldwin is one of the best receivers in this league,” Sherman said last week. “You can quote me on that. I think a lot of people throw our receivers under the rug. Everybody wants us to be the underrated, not-good receiving corps, but they’re great players in their own right, and they do everything our team needs them to do.”
Baldwin, who will say without blinking that the Seahawks have the league’s best receiving corps, epitomizes the efficiency required for a receiver to thrive in the Seahawks’ run-based offense. He was thrown to only 73 times during the regular season (4.6 times per game), yet he produced 50 receptions, 778 yards and five touchdowns. Only Golden Tate (64 catches, 898 yards, five touchdowns) was more productive.
Baldwin caught passes on 68.5 percent of his targets this season. Interesting comparison: Calvin Johnson, the NFL’s best receiver and one of the most targeted, made good on only 53.8 percent of his targets. Denver’s Demaryius Thomas — another huge star who had 92 receptions, 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns on a team that throws a lot and spreads the ball around — was successful on 64.3 percent of his targets. The stat doesn’t measure greatness, but it speaks to the efficiency of the wide receiver and the accuracy of the quarterback delivering the ball.
“He’s a great competitor,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says of Baldwin. “He’s got tremendous focus on battling and fighting and clawing and scratching. He comes through, and it works for him in really crucial moments.”
Ask Baldwin about his highlight-reel receptions, and he’ll talk about being motivated by failure. He’ll take you back to the 2012 season opener, a 20-16 Seahawks loss to Arizona, when he dived and couldn’t come down with a difficult potential game-winner in the final seconds. Baldwin lost his two front teeth on the play.
“My motivation comes from the plays I didn’t make,” Baldwin says. “That’s one of the plays that’s been sticking out with me since it happened, and I keep replaying in my mind not to allow it to happen again.”
The media has embraced the nickname Angry Doug Baldwin to joke with the wide receiver about his edge. Really, though, Big Play Baldwin is more apt.
The Contrarian fits, too. The less you expect of Baldwin, the more he provides.
Keep calling him average. Baldwin always has a rebuttal.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer