Jon Baldwin's rookie season got off to a poor start when he broke his thumb in a fight with teammate Thomas Jones during training camp, and he never really never recovered after missing the first five games of the season. He totaled just 21 receptions for 254 yards with one touchdown in the 11 games he did play, with his one shining moment coming in Week 8 against the San Diego Chargers when had five receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. Some of his lack of production can be blamed on Chiefs' quarterback Matt Cassel missing the last seven games of the season himself with a hand injury and the stellar duo of Tyler Palko and Ricky Stanzi taking his place, so Cassel's return to health and a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll creates some optimism the Chiefs could have a resurgence offensively in 2012.
Baldwin was Kansas City's first round pick in 2011 (26th overall), at seems to have the size (6'4", 230 lbs.) and overall physical tools to become a starter opposite the Dwayne Bowe in his second NFL season. That would be a situation that looks beneficial, as the opponent's top cover man would be responsible for Bowe, leaving Baldwin to line up across from a less-talented player. Word out of Chiefs' OTAs suggested Baldwin was a standout as he has got a lot of first-team reps with Bowe having yet to sign his franchise tender, though he was bothered by a migraine issue that was later not thought to be serious.
Let's look at how Baldwin fits into the Chiefs' offense, and thus the type of fantasy impact he could make in 2012.
The Kansas City Receiving Corp
Outside of Bowe, the Chiefs do not have anyone that looks likely to have a spot firmly locked down with training camp coming next month. Steve Breaston had a somewhat disappointing first season in Kansas City in 2011, with 61 receptions for 785 yards and two touchdowns, but he looks likely to have a significant role even if he has to move to the slot to make room for Baldwin as a newly anointed starter. Other than that, Kansas City's wide receiver has unproven rookies (Devon Wylie, Junior Hemingway, Josh Bellamy), a player whose skill set makes him a versatile weapon (Dexter McCluster) and an underwhelming veteran (Terrance Copper) on the roster right now. So the opportunity for Baldwin is there to earn a significant role with little in the way of major competition, and barring injury or an impossibly bad training camp and preseason he should do so fairly easily. Tight end Tony Moeaki will return after missing all of 2011 with a torn ACL, which may take some targets way from everyone, but his presence in the middle of the field stands to benefit Baldwin and Bowe.
Baldwin is likely to go undrafted in a lot of leagues this year, which is not surprising considering his poor performance last season, but it's not out of the question to see him produce well early in the season and become a popular waiver wire target. Owners in deeper leagues (think 14-plus teams or large rosters) should think of him as a worthy late round gamble with upside on draft day, and Baldwin's value is a bit higher in keeper leagues as well.