With the offseason additions of Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth, and today’s signing of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Ravens’ receiving corps is looking more formidable than it ever has. Add a healthy Derrick Mason and a rejuvenated Mark Clayton into the mix, and the Ravens have five receivers who could start for most NFL teams. Consider that rookie David Reed and third-year man Marcus Smith forced Demetrius Williams out the door, and from top to bottom, this group seems to be extremely talented.
Is this a sign of the Apocalypse? Do the Ravens actually have the best receiving corps in the NFL? Or, if not the best, is it at least not one of the five worst like it usually is? Breakdowns of the top receiving corps in the NFL, and how the Ravens compare to them, after the jump.
Take away the Vinny Testaverde season, and the Ravens have been plagued with the same two ailments for their entire franchise’s history, those being poor quarterbacking and a lack of receiving weapons for that mediocre quarterback to use. While we can’t say that Joe Flacco is the best thing since sliced bread (yet), we can say that he’s probably the best quarterback to ever play in a Ravens uniform sans Testaverde, and putting up a legitimate argument for Flacco over Testaverde would not be difficult. (Keep in mind that Randall Cunningham was older than Stonehenge when he wore the purple and white.) With one of the two problems fixed, the Ravens went about solving their receiving problem this offseason, and it shows. Flacco’s impressive preseason, Williams getting cut, and Marc Bulger gladly accepting a backup role all show the fact that the Ravens’ receivers are pretty darn good this year.
You think about the best wide receivers in the NFL and you think of Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, Steve Smith (the Panthers one), and maybe even Calvin Johnson. Other than Moss, none of the guys on that list are part of a top-class group of receivers. Fitzgerald was before Boldin left, and you could even argue that the Patriots’ group wouldn’t be as good without Tom Brady there. Now, I’ll get back to where I’m actually trying to go with this point. If you made a list of the top 50 wide receivers in the NFL, not for fantasy purposes, but just a pure ranking of the best receivers, I guarantee the Ravens would have at least three receivers on that list. It wouldn’t be any kind of stretch to believe that they could get five on that list, either. If any other team can say that they’d have five receivers be mentioned on a list of the top 50 receivers in the NFL, I’d pledge my allegiance to Rex Ryan as my leader and root for the Browns for the rest of my life. That’s how much I like this group of Ravens receivers. It’s actually kind of scary, to be honest.
Now, let’s compare the Ravens’ group to other teams.
New England Patriots: The Pats’ top receivers are Moss, Wes Welker, and……Julian Edelman? Besides their main two guys, the Pats don’t have any threats. Ben Watson is an above-average tight end, and if you want to give Edelman anything, it’s that he can run in a straight line faster than the 260-pound linebackers that cover him. Moss is their only deep threat, and if you have two good cornerbacks, you can really shut down Tom Brady. Just look at what the Ravens did to Brady in the playoffs when he didn’t have Wes Welker. Then realize that the Ravens’ best cornerbacks at that point were Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr.
Green Bay Packers: I love this Packers passing attack. Aaron Rodgers is the perfect guy to lead it, and they’ve got all kinds of weapons. Greg Jennings is establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best, and Jermichael Finley looks all kinds of dangerous from that hybrid TE/WR position he’s got going. This one’s more tricky than New England, so let’s look at each individual guy. Jennings and Boldin are pretty different, but I’ll give the edge to Jennings just on the basis of talent. Donald Driver and Derrick Mason have some similarities, but are pretty different as well. I’d call that one a tie, maybe giving Mason a slight edge because of his consistency. James Jones vs. T.J. Houshmandzadeh? Very funny, that’s Housh without a doubt. Jordy Nelson is not the receiver that Donte Stallworth is, but he’s got some nice upside. Tight end is the most tricky. Finley’s great, but the Ravens have an incredible trio of talents. Todd Heap with the great hands, Dennis Pitta being the big guy who can run well after the catch, and Ed Dickson being a vertical threat whose speed creates insane mismatches. It’s gotta be a tie on that one, too. Mark Clayton gives the Ravens a very legitimate 5th option, something the Packers don’t really have, and might need in certain situations this year. It’s close, but…
Indianapolis Colts: I’ll give the Colts this one. Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark make up the best group of pass-catchers in the NFL, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter who Peyton Manning has as long as they don’t drop the ball whenever it hits them perfectly in the hands in mid-stride. When you think about it though, the Ravens are close. Wayne-Clark is the best receiver-tight end duo in the league, and that gives the Colts a huge leg up on any team, but all of the Ravens’ receivers can match up with the rest of the Colts’ weapons, almost surprisingly so. If Joe Flacco can get near that elite level that Manning is always at, then we’ll be talking.
So, there it is. The Ravens have one sick group of receivers now, and when you throw some tight end magic in there, they’re looking extremely well off in the pass-catching department.
UPDATE: Mark Clayton will probably not be with the team this season, completely killing half of the best arguments in this post. Personally, I think it’s a bad decision, but I’m not Ozzie Newsome, and Ozzie is always right, one way or another.