Ravens are building the WR group the right way this time around
While we thoroughly appreciated the Ravens wide receivers during the Joe Flacco era, this group seems to be built a bit differently and that’s for the better.
The Baltimore Ravens have long been the butt of the joke when it comes to drafting and developing elite level or even above average wide receivers.
As of this moment Torrey Smith is the greatest Ravens wide receiver that the Ravens have ever drafted. I want to be clear from the start that this article is no way meant to disrespect Torrey Smith or his contributions both on the field and off the field as a Raven. Simply put, Smith was a good wide receiver for the Ravens. His four year averages of 53 catches, 897 yards, and 7.5 touchdowns per season are solid but not spectacular.
For context the second place options for greatest Ravens wide receiver ever drafted are Jermaine Lewis, Brandon Stokley, Travis Taylor, and Mark Clayton. This group is so bad you can almost include Breshad Perriman. It hasn’t been pretty over the years.
Because Smith is the most notable wide out the Ravens have ever drafted, we saw a laundry list of veterans throughout the Joe Flacco era in Baltimore. Derrick Mason was go to receiver in the early years and he was a beast. Past his prime but a beast. The Ravens had a few years of Kelley Washington (fun though bad), TJ Houshmandzadeh who was well past washed at that point in his career, and Anquan Boldin who was a postseason hero and a regular season competent option.
We’ve also seen the likes of Lee Evans (WOOF), Jacoby Jones, whose claim to fame is his return skills, the ghost of Brandon Stokley, a few decent years from an over the hill Steve Smith Sr., and past their primes Mike Wallace who turned in a few good seasons and Michael Crabtree who was dismal. Jeremy Maclin also played a season here though no one can tell you much about it other than that it sucked. John Brown had a big first half and fizzled out when Jackson took the reigns at QB.
So what were the Ravens doing in the draft these years with Flacco in Baltimore? The first three rounds of the NFL draft are where you hope to find some players that will have a major impact on your team for years to come. It doesn’t mean you cannot find those players in rounds four through seven it is simply not as likely/harder to do so. From 2009-2018 (Flacco’s last season), the Ravens drafted two wide receivers out of 33 picks in the first three rounds of the draft: Smith and Breshad Perriman, who joined Mark Clayton and Travis Taylor as prominent wide receiver busts.
It’s one thing to not be able to draft and develop wide receivers. It’s another thing entirely to stop trying. This is a quote from Eric DeCosta in an article by Wola Ordeniran of Ravens Wire.
"“I think one of the biggest things that we have to do is just get some at-bats and swing,” DeCosta said during the team’s pre-draft presser the year before his first draft in charge. “It’s hard to be a .400 hitter if you’re only going to bat twice. So we’ve got to take some chances.”"
And so far, DeCosta has overwhelmingly delivered on this promise. In the last two drafts alone, DeCosta has selected Marquise Brown in round one in 2019, Miles Boykin in round three in 2019, and Devin Duvernay in round three in 2020. So in two drafts, DeCosta has already drafted more wide receivers in the first three rounds than the Ravens drafted in the 10 drafts prior.
This was the number one thing that I wanted to see the Ravens change under Lamar Jackson. If Jackson projects to be here for quite some time, which he does, why not get some young wide receivers to grow with him. Consider this: Of the top 10 wide receivers in yardage last season, only Amari Cooper and Jarvis Landry were not drafted by their current team. Take it a step further: the other eight were all top three round picks for their respective teams.
This is not to say that you cannot find quality veteran options to help fill a wide receiving group as Willie Snead IV is still a competent option for the Ravens today. The Ravens committing to swinging away at the wide receiver position also doesn’t guarantee that Brown, Boykin, and Duvernay are shoe-ins to become elite wide receivers.
They may have to step back up to the plate to swing again in the coming years. They may have to mix in some quality veteran options via free agency or the trade market and I am confident they will do so if needed.
One thing I am certain of though is that the Ravens are attempting to surround their franchise quarterback with the greatest amount of young and capable talent as possible. And that is a refreshing feeling for this Ravens fan.