The Ravens may not boast the most elite wide receiver corps entering 2020. But what they do have is speed, and that’s a major X-factor.
Pro Football Focus recently ranked the Baltimore Ravens‘ wide receiver corps 26th overall heading into 2020, which probably irked a few fans out there considering the team’s 14-2 finish last year and No. 1-ranked offense.
If anything, the above conclusion spits in the face of the notion teams need elite passing games to compete in today’s pass-happy NFL. But that’s an argument for another time.
From the 2019 statistical standpoint, it’s somewhat easy to understand why Baltimore’s wideouts don’t exactly rank high entering the upcoming season. For starters, coordinator Greg Roman’s offense is predicated on the run first, then a diverse group of tight ends behind that. Wide receiver production could arguably come in third.
Marquise Brown, the team’s top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, put together an impressive enough campaign his rookie year to suggest he’ll be a bona fide factor in the Ravens offense in coming seasons. But there’s one element suggesting what Baltimore wants out of this core group.
Brown’s big-play abilities, including that 83-yard touchdown reception in Week 1, is an indicator of this. He could have been a contender for the NFL Scouting Combine 40-yard dash record of 4.32 seconds, held by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross, had he not been injured during the events. But anyone who watched Brown on the field last year understands how explosive he can be.
And that seemed to epitomize what the Ravens are going to do this coming season, too.
Fellow wideout Seth Roberts is gone, yet Miles Boykin also has a speed element to his game. So does Baltimore’s third-round pick from this year’s draft, wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at this year’s combine.
See the connection? Roman and general manager Eric DeCosta are brandishing that speed element.
How speed can translate into success for Ravens wide receiver corps
Brown figures to play a vital role in the development of Baltimore’s passing game and how the wide receivers will influence it this year.
One can also see the transition from his early days as a first-year pro to the level he was at in the playoffs, showing the maturation as well as the increasingly complex nature of routes he was expected to run.
Case in point, look at this NextGen Stats chart from that Week 1 performance:
Getting into the playoffs for the divisional round against the Tennessee Titans, it’s pretty clear Brown’s route-running skills reached a new level:
This suggests Brown will look much more like a bona fide weapon in Roman’s offense, using his speed as a primary X-factor from a number of different spots in the formation.
It’s a great asset to have, leading to the idea Duvernay will be expected to follow a similar trajectory.
Willie Snead IV may still see time in the slot, but Duvernay will see as much time as the gameplan dictates. Baltimore may not have the best all-around receiving corps, but they have a group of field-stretchers and mismatch-creators who fit their big-play offensive style.
One of the aspects for Duvernay, of course, will be to create yards after the catch. He averaged a solid 6.9 yards after the catch during his collegiate years at Texas, suggesting this element will be even more vital for Baltimore’s offense in the coming years.
How this translates is anyone’s guess. But the ideal scenario, assuming Brown hits his stride in year two and Duvernay develops properly, is for the Ravens to have two or three deep-threat weapons on the field at any given time. With opponents guarding against Baltimore’s top-ranked rushing offense, putting up to seven or eight defenders in the box, getting players like Brown and Duvernay into one-on-one matchups down the field only serves to Roman’s benefit.
In short, there are going to be plenty of opportunities for big plays down the field.
It’s an element Baltimore flashed plenty of times last season. Now, assuming all goes to plan, that speed factor will make the Ravens offense that much more lethal and imposing.