Cowboys Draft Prospects: Jonathan Baldwin

In this, the last of our reviews of skill position players in whom the Dallas brass has shown interest, we'll see what scouting types think of Pittsburgh wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin. At nearly 6’5″ and 230 lbs, with sub-4.5 speed and good hands, Baldwin is a match-up nightmare. In 2009, Baldwin's sophomore season, he exploded onto the scene, grabbing 57 balls for an eerily symmetrical 1,111 yards and eight scores. Last season, due in large part to shaky quarterback play, Baldwin's numbers fell off, especially his yards per catch: he has essentially the same number of catches, but for 300 fewer yards. Nevertheless, we was awarded his second consecutive first-team All-Big East nod. He left Pitt with a total of 2,337 receiving yards (sixth all-time at Pitt) on 128 catches (eighth).

Some highlights from his stellar 2009 can be found here. Looking at these, its clear that Baldwin's a unique athletic talent, with deep (if slow-developing) speed and the ability to leap and grab high throws while even the tallest DB strain in vain to make a play on the ball.The National Football Post came out with a great piece yesterday that took a closer look at the ways Pitt designed plays to take advantage of Baldwin's height and leaping ability.

His leaping ability was certainly on display at the Combine, where he posted an elite-level 10-9 broad jump and 42-inch vertical. In addition, he clocked a 4.43 second forty, bench pressed 225 pounds 20 times, timed a 1.58 10-yard split, and came in at 7.07 in the three-cone drill. Those are good numbers; a video of his Combine workout can be found here.

That said, I can't find any confirmation of visits to other teams. As the below evaluations will show, Baldwin is a somewhat polarizing talent: scouts seem to have trouble agreeing where to slot him. As a result, I'd expect him to be all over teams' boards--and even to be missing from some of them.

Might this cause him to fall low enough that the Cowboys could justify scooping him up (say, by trading up into the late second round)?

Lets see what the scouts think of him after the jump...

National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 3rd-rated WR; 17th overall

A king-sized wideout who possesses a well-built upper body with the strength to consistently fend off defenders in the pass game. Is at his best when asked to get down the field, locate the football and go up and make a play. Looks like a power forward the way he attacks the throw and consistently is able to come down with the catch. Is more of a strider when asked to get vertical, lacks a great first initial burst and seems to really fight himself at times trying to get off the line and quickly into his route. Does a really nice job of plucking the football over the middle of the field and isn't afraid to put his body in harms way in order to make a play. Exhibits some shiftiness to his game with the ball in his hands and is able to side step defenders and accelerate into daylight.

However, he lacks ideal balance/fluidity as a route runner. He's consistently forced to gear down and gather himself when asked to change directions and doesn't generate a great deal of separation out of his breaks. Plus, he isn't real sudden when asked to beat press coverage, and although he does do a good job of gaining a step by using his physicality to fight through defenders and then dropping his shoulder to maintain balance/strength, he isn't nearly as impressive at beating the bump as you would expect from someone his size.

Seemed to look a bit bigger in 2010 and didn't quite have the same type of electric jump ball ability he did in 2009. His motor also seemed to run hot/cold as the season went on because of substandard QB play. Is a physical, nasty blocker when he wants to be and can dominate at the point of attack, but at times seems content to simply go through the motions and lacks the kind of ideal killer instinct.

Impression: At his best when asked to get down the field and go up and make a play on the football. Can make a play on the football even when covered up, which is good because he doesn't strike me as a guy who is going to create a lot of separation for himself in the NFL. Is said to run in the low 4.4 range, but doesn't play nearly that fast and looks more like a possession type wideout at the next level.

The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 10th-rated WR; overall unknown (not in top 99)

Strengths: Has rare size and arm length for the position at the NFL level. Displays excellent hands with exceptional ability to track and adjust to the ball in the air. Has good body control and balance in his routes. Knows how to use his size and length to his advantage in man-to-man coverage. Has good career production as a collegiate receiver.

Weaknesses: Has a tall stance with only average release quickness. Is a long strider who takes 10 yards to get to full speed and lacks that fifth gear to accelerate under the deep ball. Has only average separation quickness against man-to-man coverage and struggles to get off the jam against a press cornerback. Gets sloppy with his routes some in his play. Does not appear willing to sacrifice his body for a catch in traffic or an off-target throw.

Bottom line
: Baldwin came out early after starting two years for the Panthers. He does not appear to be focused on the little things necessary to be great at the position in the NFL. Baldwin's solid combination of size and hands give him consideration for the fourth round, but a lack of special teams contribution hurts his value.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 9th-rated WR; 68th overall

Positives: Excellent body length-long arms and big hands. Good straight-line speed. Extends to catch outside his frame. Has a solid 38-inch vertical jump and can climb the ladder. Solid production-gained nearly 19 yards per reception his final three seasons. Competitive. Very hardworking and durable. The game is important to him.

Negatives: Slight-framed with build-up speed. Needs to get stronger-struggles against the press and is too easily knocked off routes. Average coordination and fluidity for a tall receiver. Mechanical, unrefined route runner-cannot sink in and out of breaks. Not strong-handed. Limited run strength after the catch. Was not tested by top-notch cornerbacks.

Summary: Tall, thin, outside-the-numbers fade catcher who cold be a factor in the red zone but has to play with more urgency. Inability to defeat press coverage and lack of special-teams value hurt his chances.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 7th-rated WR; 52nd overall

Separation Skills: Unpolished in this area at this point. Still learning how to gain initial leverage working within stem to separate from defenders. Needs to throttle down and a bit segmented with lateral in and out cuts. Long strides allow him to separate from coverage running shallow or intermediate crossing routes. Also shows a quick burst coming out of vertical cuts and can be extremely dangerous executing double moves down field. Displays a natural feel working against zone coverage. Does a nice job of rolling in dig routes and finding the soft spots in the middle of the field.

Ball Skills: Elite in this area. Displays natural and strong hands and catches the ball away from his frame. Body control is excellent and can make tough catch outside of frame look easy. At his best catching the ball up high where he can use his long arms and ability to elevate. Tracks the deep ball effortlessly and will cause matchup problems in one-on-one jump ball situations. Flashes ability to pull in acrobatic one-handed catch.

Big play ability: Long strides provide him with deceiving top-end speed. Combined with ability to track deep ball makes him an immediate and legit vertical threat at the next level. Strong runner and can be tough to bring down in one-on-one situations in the open field. Displays an effective stiff arm. However, needs a seam to create a big gain after catch and lacks elite elusiveness to consistently make defenders miss in the open field.

Competitiveness/ Toughness: Aggressive and physical when attacking the ball in the air. Willing to work the middle of the field and will put body on the line to haul in catch while taking a hit. Bigger frame makes it easy for him to cover DBs downfield as a run blocker. However, effort can be erratic in this department.

Intangibles: Member of the Big East All-Academic team in 2009. Shows good commitment to improving his skills both on and off the field. Hard worker in the weight room. Arrested and charged with misdemeanor indecent assault, summary harassment and summary disorderly conduct in spring of 2009 but the charges were later dismissed.

As these profiles suggest, Baldwin is a long, lean wideout in the mold of the Chargers' Vincent Jackson. Indeed, when I saw his name on the list of Valley Ranch invitees, it struck me that Jason Garrett might be trying to assemble a fleet of tall receivers much like his mentor, Norv Turner, has in San Diego.I have no problem with that. Indeed, the only record of NFL interest in Baldwin I could find was that the Chargers GM, A.J. Smith, had attended Baldwin's pro day.

There seems to be some disagreement about where Baldwin falls, as these evaluations range from the 17th player overall to a guy who fails to crack the top 99. The larger consensus is that he's the third-rated wideout in this year's class. As a result, I can't imagine he gets out of the second round, but could see him falling to the late second--but not as far as the Cowboys third rounder, at # 71. So, until the Cowboys have a late second-round pick, I'm going to have to slot him where they select in the second, at number 40.

Next up: Its on to the big uglies! Florida OC/ OG Mike Pouncey

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