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From Undrafted To Leading Receiver: Doug Baldwin & Other UDFAs Found Success With The Seahawks
Before Doug Baldwin could become the Seahawks’ No. 1 receiver, before he could become one the team’s outspoken leaders, before he could catch touchdown passes in back-to-back Super Bowls, and before he could earn a nickname like Angry Doug Baldwin, he first simply had to make the team.
It took the odd combination of a newspaper publisher and a former Buffalo Bills head coach for Baldwin to even land a Division I college scholarship—no, really—and then despite an accomplished career at Stanford, he went undrafted in 2011.
Baldwin had suitors after going undrafted, and picked the Seahawks in part because Stanford teammate and close friend Richard Sherman, a fifth-round pick that year, helped persuade him to come to Seattle. Despite being a sought after undrafted free agent, however, the numbers still said Baldwin was fighting an uphill battle to make the team.
Of course as everyone knows now, Baldwin didn’t just make the team, he would go on to catch 51 passes for 788 yards in 2011, making him the first undrafted rookie to lead his team in receptions and receiving yards since 1960.
This week at Seahawks.com, we’re looking at five of the biggest training camp surprises that have happened under Pete Carroll and John Schneider. These developments serve as reminder that nothing is set in stone this time of year, and they also reveal a little bit about Carroll and Schneider’s methods. Read
2011: Doug Baldwin leads a strong class of UDFAs
When the NFL draft ends, it is usually followed by an immediate 32-team race to sign the top college talent that went undrafted. In 2011, however, that scramble to sign the top undrafted free agents was delayed three months because of the lockout, but for the Seahawks, that 2011 class of UDFAs was worth the wait.
Not only did the Seahawks land Baldwin, the team’s most consistent receiver over the past four seasons, they also signed Jeron Johnson, Ricardo Lockette and Mike Morgan just before the start of training camp. That class of UDFAs also included Ron Parker, who never was able to break through in a crowded Seattle secondary, but who has since become a starting defensive back in Kansas City.
In the case of Baldwin, it was evident early in camp that he had a chance to make the team, but a path to significant playing time seemed unlikely. The Seahawks returned Golden Tate and Mike Williams, they had drafted Kris Durham in the fourth round, and most notably, had signed Sidney Rice in free agency. So where did an undersized, undrafted rookie fit in? In the slot, it turned out.
Baldwin’s quickness and route-running savvy allowed him to do what other rookie receivers haven’t in Seattle, which was make an immediate, week-in-week-out impact on the offense.
And Baldwin wasn’t alone in going from undrafted to important player that year. Johnson beat out fifth-round pick Mark LeGree for a roster spot and would go on to become a key special teams player and backup safety before signing with Washington this offseason. Morgan has quietly been a key special teams contributor and backup linebacker for four seasons, and Lockette, following stints on Seattle’s practice squad and in San Francisco, made himself in an important player on offense and special teams. In fact, last year’s Seahawks went to the Super Bowl with a receiving group that consisted of only one drafted player, Kevin Norwood, and five who went undrafted out of college—Baldwin, Lockette, Jermaine Kearse, Chris Matthews and Bryan Walters. Read
What it told us about Carroll and Schneider:
Just about every coach will tell a team that draft status doesn’t matter, but few, if any, are as committed to that as Carroll. In his “always compete” world, draft picks lose jobs to undrafted players every year and in fact the Seahawks use that as a recruiting pitch when it comes to signing undrafted players, outlining how many snaps their past undrafted rookies have played and how many draft picks they’ve cut.
Some of that comes from Carroll’s time at USC, when he quickly embraced a system that allowed incoming freshmen to push upperclassmen for playing time. And just as some freshman were able to contribute right away in college, Carroll discovered that plenty of rookies, even those who were passed over on draft weekend, were talented enough and competitive enough to take jobs from veterans.
“It’s an extraordinary part of the draft,” Carroll said last year of the free agency period that follows the seven-round draft.
Seattle’s success with undrafted rookies is in part due to their willingness to give those players a shot in training camp and in preseason games, but credit also goes to Schneider and his scouts, who spend a ton of time looking for those late-round and undrafted gems who might have what it takes to go from afterthought to NFL starters.
“John spends so much time with his (staff) deep into the draft so our knowledge of the players that are available – whether they’re able to get drafted or not – is still really important to us,” Carroll said. “That’s a huge emphasis for us, to know those guys all the way through the depths, not just being concerned with the top three or four rounds. That’s one, and then we are committed to playing them. So we find out whether they can play or not.
“I think all of that together is a big commitment from us in regard to the young guys. We’re totally committed to this.” Read