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Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin is always “making big plays and clutch plays”

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The Patriots are going to have to defend one of the best slot receivers in the NFL.

Seattle Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin is in his sixth season in the NFL. The 5’10, 190 pound receiver recorded 857 yards and 9 touchdowns from a quarterback named Andrew Luck in his final college season, but it wasn’t enough to drafted out of Stanford in 2010.

Baldwin has since become one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, improving from 366 yards in 2012, to 778 in 2013, to 825 in 2014, and to 1,069 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns in 2015. Baldwin is on pace for 1,140 yards this year.

Baldwin’s 4.48 second 40 yard dash in pretty good, but his 10’3 broad jump is explosive and his 6.56 second three cone drill would have been one of the 25-best in NFL Combine history (if he had been invited). The Seahawks recently signed Baldwin to a 4-year, $46 million extension.

The Patriots have played Baldwin twice before. In 2012, Baldwin had 2 receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown. In Super Bowl XLIX, he recorded just 1 catch for 3 yards and a touchdown, after which he celebrated by pretending to poop out/on the football.

“I think when we played him two years ago, we felt he was a really good receiver and made a lot of big plays and production,” Patriots FS Devin McCourty said about Baldwin this past week. “I still feel the same. I don’t think you turn on a game where he’s not making big plays and clutch plays for them, so from scouting and watching them, he’s one of their top targets. They give him the ball, he makes plays, so here I don’t think he’s underrated, but I don’t know the perception of him everywhere else.”

Unlike most slot receivers, Baldwin can do damage down the field. Since the start of 2015, he has picked up 24 receptions for 20+ yards, the 13th most in the NFL, and he has caught 58% of his passes that are 15+ yards down the field, the 2nd highest rate of any player with 30+ targets. His 9 touchdowns on passes 15+ yards down the field since the start of 2015 is the most in the NFL.

“I think a lot of times with receivers you try to group them for what they do, whether he’s a short, intermediate type of receiver, good quickness, not a deep threat,” McCourty explained. “I think with [Doug Baldwin], he has good quickness, runs a lot of crossing routes, option routes. He goes deep, he makes plays down the field, so I think what makes him tough is his versatility. He does a lot for their offense.

“When there are three receivers on the field, he’ll be in the slot, he’ll work in the slot, but he’ll also work outside. In two-receiver sets, he’s outside, so he’s not scared to get out there in the run game, going out there and blocking linebackers. He’s just a very good overall football player. He’s more than just a good receiver; he’s a very good football player.

“We’ve got to try to bottle him up as much as possible so even when they get him the ball quickly and he’s trying to break tackles and make plays, we’ve just got to surround him and make sure we try to contain him and not give up a big play.”

The Patriots asked CB Darrelle Revis to shadow Baldwin in Super Bowl XLIX, so it’s possible (probable?) that CB Malcolm Butler will draw the assignment on Sunday. Revis, the target of Baldwin’s touchdown celebration, struggled to stick with Baldwin in the slot and it was QB Russell Wilson’s inability to hit Baldwin in stride that sunk the receiver’s production.

Baldwin is a great receiver and is paired with a great tight end in Jimmy Graham. This is probably the biggest test the Patriots defense will have had this season. Don’t expect McCourty and the secondary to underestimate the challenge.