With the NFL Draft fast approaching, a significant number of Pitt football players should attract attention from scouts. One of those players, Jon Baldwin, may attract the wrong type of attention, however.
Baldwin is one of Pitt's most talented wide receivers in years. While he isn't generally recognized as a better wideout than Larry Fitzgerald, Baldwin is one of the best deep threats in Pitt history. And at 6-foot-5, he's a big enough target that could win a lot of jump balls in the pros. Baldwin also runs well in the open field, and because he's so big, can be a problem for defenders to bring down.
Unfortunately for Baldwin, it's his off-field issues that could cause him to slip in this year's draft.
He made waves at the end of last season about his decision to leave school early to go to the NFL Draft. Baldwin, when speaking to NFLDraftScout.com, had this to say about his draft status and team:
Reached through text message Tuesday evening and asked if it was safe to say he would forego his senior year with Wannstedt stepping down, Baldwin responded, "No, it's not safe to say that. It doesn't change my quarterback!"
At first, it sounded as if Baldwin was non-committal on his future, but when asked, "Why would you stay [for your senior season] when you have no chemistry with QB Tino Sunseri, a new coach/system taking over next season and possibly hurt your draft stock for the 2012 draft?" Baldwin clarified, "Oh, I misunderstood you ... Heck yeah I'm leaving. It can only get worse. They had me running a lot of deep routes [this year] and yards were hard to come by. I barely ran intermediate routes; it felt like they were purposely trying to disrupt my draft stock."
Baldwin threw not only Sunseri under the bus, but also coaches responsible for the routes he was running. He also looked bad by claiming that he felt the team was trying to hurt his draft stock on purpose. That makes little sense, and I have a hard time believing the team would want him to fall in the draft. The success of programs is based, in part, to how many first-round draft picks they can produce. Baldwin slipping in the draft would do nothing for the program as a whole.
And while those comments were bad, I also think comments made this summer offered some insight as to what Baldwin may be about:
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried, because Tino and I haven't been on the field together that much," Baldwin told NFLDraftScout.com in an exclusive interview in July. "This is a big year for me, and I made him aware of that; he knows it's an important year for me, and he's going to try to help me have a big year."
As I mentioned over at Cardiac Hill last year, there's one common denominator in those quotes: Me. A big year for me. An important year for me. Help me have a big year. Even if Baldwin meant nothing by those statements, frankly, I think it just sounds bad. He seemed to place the focus on himself rather than worrying about how a lack of production might affect the team.
So is Baldwin selfish? I don't know - he might be the only person who can truly answer that. I think all wide receivers have a degree of selfishness, and it's a tough position to play. A receiver can run the best route possible, be wide open, and have no involvement in the play. It's still up to the quarterback to not only look in his direction, but also make an accurate throw. A receiver's success depends so much on the quarterback and I imagine it can get frustrating for a player to not get the ball as much as he feels he should.
While scouts realize that, these types of comments probably don't help Baldwin's cause. He has first-round talent, but could end up falling because of perceived attitude issues. Baldwin will need to do all he can in the combine and in individual workouts to try to erase some of those perceptions.