After several years of hearing cries from fans about acquiring more talent at the wide receiver position, Ozzie Newsome did just that and more this offseason.
First, it was the signing of the speedy Donte Stallworth. Then, it was Anquan Boldin, who Newsome basically stole from the Cardinals for draft picks in the third and fourth round of April’s NFL Draft. After that, the team selected Utah receiver David Reed in the 5th round of the draft, a raw guy with lots of upside. The Ravens arguably improved more than any other team at a specific position in the offseason, and with the recent re-emergence of Mark Clayton, this group looks like it could be the best receiving corps we’ve ever seen from this Ravens team, even considering the recent injury to Stallworth.
Full preview after the jump.
The Starters: Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason
If you’re one of the fans who thinks that Anquan Boldin is going to be putting up huge yardage numbers every game, with deep balls thrown to him all game long and beating receivers with his speed, I’m about to burst your bubble. His role with the Ravens is to be the guy routinely making catches for 5 or 8 yards, most of them being inside the numbers. With the amount of passes the Ravens will have Joe Flacco throw this season, it wouldn’t be that big of an exaggeration to think that Boldin could eclipse 100 receptions for the third time in his career. The one thing that we know Boldin will do is catch a lot of passes. He has 586 receptions in 95 career games, which is an average of 6.2 per game, and about 99 in 16 games. Boldin is the protoypical #1 receiver for the offense that Cam Cameron runs because of his precise route running and ability to catch pass after pass over the middle, and he should be a great weapon for Joe Flacco to have.
Derrick Mason has been downgraded to the #2 receiver for the first time since he’s been in Baltimore, and personally, I think it’s a blessing in disguise. Anquan Boldin will be catching passes between the numbers. Joe Flacco will throw a lot more than he has in the past two seasons. Add those two things together and you’ve got a great recipe for Derrick Mason success. The 36-year old receiver is great running routes on the sidelines, getting just enough space to make nice catches that gain 10 or more yards. With increased attention to Boldin down the middle from the safeties, and the fact that Mark Clayton may be running more fly routes this season, Mason could be facing single coverage all season long, and a guy who’s been around as long as he has will surely take advantage of that. Something most people don’t know about Mason is that he’s one of the most consistent receiver in the NFL, gaining over 1,000 receiving yards every season since 2001 except for his 750-yard 2006 season with the Ravens. Look for Mason to continue that 1,000 yard streak and possibly even have one of the best seasons he’s ever had in his prolific career.
The Backups: Donte Stallworth (injured), Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith, David Reed
This group is pretty strong. Consider that Clayton was a #2 last season, will most likely be a #4 this season when Stallworth returns, and had to fight hard to keep his spot on the roster this season, and you can see the change in quality immediately. Stallworth broke his foot and should be back in the middle of the season, and when he returns, his speed and versatility will be a big boost to the offense. I believe that Williams and Smith will make the roster and get some looks on offense, Williams being a vertical threat who can win jump balls, and Smith being a versatile guy who runs routes well. I debated whether to include David Reed, but I think it’s appropriate, considering how much he impressed the coaches and his teammates at OTAs and his ability in the return game. Smith and Reed will undoubtedly contribute on special teams, something the Ravens’ offensive backups pride themselves on.
The next preview will be at the tight end position.