Packers CBs wary of ‘underrated’ Seahawks undrafted WRs

Doug Baldwin (89) and the Seahawks' wide receivers will test Sam Shields (behind) and the Packers' defensive backs on Sunday.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — First Calvin Johnson, then Dez Bryant, now . . . Doug Baldwin?

The past two times the Green Bay Packers were on the field, they’ve had to deal with a couple of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Johnson is perhaps the most talented receiver in decades, while Bryant was coming off a regular season in which he led the league in touchdown catches. Green Bay held both of them relatively in check, as Johnson had four catches for 39 yards (though two of them were touchdowns) and Bryant had three receptions, 38 yards and no trips into the end zone.

Now, as the Packers are studying the Seattle Seahawks wide receivers in preparation for Sunday’s NFC championship game, they’re seeing a group of undrafted players catching the majority of the passes from Russell Wilson.

Baldwin, who went undrafted out of Stanford in 2011, was Seattle’s leader this season in targets (98), catches (66) and receiving yards (825), while finishing with only three touchdowns. That was good enough for Baldwin to rank 42nd in the league in yards, 42nd in receptions, 53rd in targets and 81st in touchdowns.

And he’s the Seahawks’ top option in the passing game.

Baldwin is complemented by two more undrafted receivers, Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette. As Wilson’s current, active, next-best receivers, Kearse and Lockette combined for just 49 catches, 732 yards and three touchdowns this season.

Despite the lack of statistical output from that trio of receivers, though, Green Bay isn’t taking them lightly.

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"Well, personally, I think they’re underrated," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I think Baldwin has had a really good year. . . . Kearse is a big guy (6-foot-1, 209 pounds) who uses his body. He body-positions people and he’s faster than what people give him credit for. When you have the running game they have, when you have Russell Wilson as your quarterback, you’ve got to always be concerned about them making a big play down the field. If people start loading up too much to stop that run, then they become one-on-one matchups outside."

Baldwin had two games this season in which he had seven catches and 100-plus yards, first at St. Louis and then at Arizona. Kearse’s best game was in Seattle’s divisional-round win over Carolina in which he had 129 receiving yards and a touchdown.

"I think they’re deserving of more credit, personally," veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said of Baldwin and Kearse. "If they played in an offense sort of like ours, they would be really good players. They probably would have a little bit more credibility to them. They’re not bad players at all. They’re really good players. Different style of players and they complement each other and complement what Russell does.

"They work well in that offense, but I think if they were put in another offense, they would work well in that offense."

Last season when Seattle won the Super Bowl, Golden Tate and Percy Harvin were still on the roster. Though Harvin wasn’t healthy enough to contribute during the 2013 regular season, Tate led the Seahawks in every key receiving category.

With Tate leaving last offseason to sign with Detroit and Seattle tiring of Harvin’s antics to the point of trading him midseason to the New York Jets, that meant Baldwin and Kearse were promoted to the No. 1 and 2 spots on the depth chart.

"Golden Tate is a good receiver, and Percy Harvin is a rare guy in terms of his ability," Capers said. "(Harvin) is a guy when they want him to be a running back, he’s a running back. When they want him to be a receiver, he’s a receiver. They got the ball in his hands a lot. I think Baldwin has similar ability in terms of the quickness coming out of breaks, running routes, the ability to make a big play."

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Rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson, a second-round pick, had 29 catches for 271 yards and one touchdown in the regular season. He won’t be available against the Packers due to the torn ACL he suffered last weekend.

What makes the matchups on the outside Sunday unique is that it will be two undrafted starting wide receivers going up against two undrafted starting cornerbacks. Williams wasn’t drafted in 2006 and Sam Shields wasn’t selected in 2010.

"Those receivers, they work hard," defensive back Micah Hyde said. "There’s no big names, no first-rounders there anymore. But these guys work. They’ll block you. They can catch the ball well. They can do it all."

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