In the NFL there are no minor league affiliates for the Baltimore Ravens to develop wide receivers on. The Baltimore Orioles depend on their farm system to grow prospects into actual contributors in the big leagues.
Developing receivers for the Ravens means investing draft picks into the wide receiver position and allowing these receivers to take up some of the 53 roster spots. On-the-job training can be clunky and over the course of a (now 17 game) season, there is no time to wait for players to have the lights come on.
The Ravens have actually done a better job committing to the wide receiver position in recent years. Since 2018 the Ravens have drafted six players at the supposedly ignored wide receiver spot.
In 2018, the Ravens applied the throwing spaghetti against the wall method and took two players later in their 12 selection draft. Neither Jordan Lasley nor Jaleel Scott panned out. It’s what the Pittsburgh Steelers do. They always are willing to take chances on any receiver they even kind of like in any round of the drat.
The throwing spaghetti on the wall approach has worked out for the Steelers. It got them huge returns from Antonio Brown as a sixth-round pick. Many thought the Steelers reached on Chase Claypool and that more than worked out for them. Sometimes the Steelers end up with Diontae Johnson types other times they get stuck with a Sammie Coates. Oh well, they keep trying, and when they hit it makes it worth it.
In 2019, the Ravens drafted Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin. Brown is poised to be the top wide receiver on the Ravens roster for a third straight season. Brown may not be the superstar the Ravens wanted but he’s a play-maker.
Boykin has not worked out so far. Fine. The point is that the Ravens tried on a big-bodied receiver out of Notre Dame; regardless of the outcome, the Ravens had the right idea. In 2020, the Ravens took Devin Duvernay in the third round. That’s three picks where the Ravens prioritized and targeted the receiver position.
The James Proche pick in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft is more spaghetti on the wall. If it sticks it sticks. If Proche never makes it, all it cost was a sixth-round pick. One way or another it was a double-dip at the position.
Whether the Ravens have a young receiving corps or an unproven one remains to be seen. The narrative bends to the results, the concept that the Ravens are legitimately trying to systematically fix their receiver woes is the moral of the story. It’s on-the-job training, remember?
Marquise Brown is headed into his third season. While a big jump in production is hoped for, any progress has to leave the Ravens at least a little satisfied. Devin Duvernay is entering his second season and he’s no longer competing with Willie Snead for playing time. What Ravens fan hasn’t envisioned a breakout year for Duvernay, actually are there any pundits who haven’t? Serious question.
Signing Sammy Watkins was smart. The Ravens realistically know what they can expect out of Watkins and Brown. The rest of it is an exciting game of projection. Exciting is the keyword though, as the Ravens really could be building hope at the position.
The Bottom Line:
The Ravens just have to think of the receiver position as something they continually have to work on. The NFL isn’t very nurturing but players who really have it find a way to show it on the field at some point. Short-term veterans like Watkins mixed in with young draft picks equals the best way to go forward.
Look for the Ravens to keep investing at the wide receiver position. They’re going to keep taking shots under Eric DeCosta’s tenure as general manager. Over the long run, the position’s fortune will change and see spikes in homegrown production. Baltimore could see an initial uptick in receiver fortune in the 2021 season.