Wayne Chrebet. The name is legend among NY Jets fans. An entire generation adores the man and his legacy. An undrafted free agent out of Hofstra, 13th wide receiver on a depth chart of 13 coming into Jets training camp, Chrebet was the unlikeliest of prospects. Undersized at 5' 10", 188 lbs, and possessing good but not great speed with a 4.53 40 time, Chrebet would need to use something other than his measurables to impress Jets coaches in 1995 and make the team. He did just that, showcasing hands of glue, excellent quickness, a knack for finding the soft spot in a defense, and seemingly unlimited toughness to carve out a spot coming out of training camp as the Jets 4th and last wide receiver. He didn't remain last for long. By the end of the 1995 season Chrebet was by far the Jets' best wide receiver. He hauled in 66 passes, second only to running back Adrian Murrell's 71 catches, and amassed 726 receiving yards to become the only undrafted free agent rookie up to that point to ever lead his team in receiving yards. He went on to have a storied career as a Jet, finishing his career with 580 receptions for more than 7300 yards, an extraordinary career for the unloved, undrafted, undersized receiver out of Hofstra.
Suppose I were to give you this quote from a former head coach of the Jets from the mid 1990's about an undrafted free agent wide receiver:
He’s a great competitor. 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. So he’s just been clutch for us and we need him a couple more times.
Who would you think of? Wayne Chrebet, right? Well, actually, the quote is from Pete Carroll. It's about Doug Baldwin, who just happens to be a free agent wide receiver this year. The parallels to Chrebet don't end with that quote. Remember Chrebet was 5' 10", 188 during his playing days? Baldwin is 5' 10", 189. Like Chrebet, Baldwin was an undrafted free agent rookie, the longest of long shots to make the Seattle roster. Chrebet was the first undrafted free agent rookie to lead his team in receiving yards. Baldwin did him one better, becoming the first undrafted free agent rookie to lead his team in both receptions and yards. Chrebet was sneaky fast at a 4.53 40, and very quick. Baldwin is sneaky faster, running a 4.48 40, and very quick. Like Chrebet, Baldwin is tough as nails, and has outstanding hands (only 2 drops all year in 2013). Like Chrebet, Baldwin is fully capable of lining up in the slot and on the outside. Chrebet rarely fumbled, racking up only 8 fumbles in an 11 year career. This was an unsung positive to his career; limiting turnovers is crucial in the NFL. Baldwin has never fumbled in his NFL career. Like Chrebet, Baldwin is very good at finding the the seams in a defense. He also has serious hops, with a 37 inch vertical, and he is very good at high pointing the ball. Finally, like Chrebet, despite some success at the NFL level, he is without honor outside his home turf. Those who remember Chrebet will well remember how other teams and other fans would consistently underrate Wayne, right up until he burned them on game day. Doug Baldwin suffers from the same affliction. Despite catching 130 passes for 1932 yards and 12 TDs over the past three seasons, and despite leading the Seahawks in receiving yards in 2011 and finishing second to Golden Tate in 2013, the name Doug Baldwin is rarely if ever brought up when desirable 2014 free agent wide receivers are discussed. That lack of household name status could make Baldwin one of the best bargains in the 2014 free agent class. A receiver who bears an uncanny resemblance to Chrebet should find a welcoming fanbase in New York, and could be a very nice addition to the Jets' receiving corps without breaking the bank.
I've included a highlight tape from Baldwin's Stanford days when he was teaming up with Andrew Luck. Unfortunately I had little success finding much NFL footage of him, other than isolated snippets showing one or another highlight reel play (there's that unnoticed and unappreciated thing again). Take a look. See what you think. Could Baldwin be part of the solution to the Jets' wide receiver problems?