Ravens: Wide receivers show reason to be optimistic in loss to Raiders

Ravens, Sammy Watkins Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Ravens, Sammy Watkins Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Monday night was far from the ideal start to the season for the Baltimore Ravens, but it isn’t a reason to be all doom and gloom just yet. While the passing game didn’t exactly come alive against the Las Vegas Raiders, the wide receivers displayed reasons to be hopeful.

Wide receiver struggles have played the Ravens for years. Since winning the Super Bowl in 2012, the Ravens have struggled to put together a consistent receiver room with multiple reliable threats.

And it hasn’t been for a lack of trying.

Since then, the Ravens have drafted 13 wide receivers, three of which were in the first round, and signed multiple veterans to incredibly varying levels of success.

This season saw them attempt both, signing Sammy Watkins and drafting Rashod Bateman in the first round and Tylan Wallace in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

It has only been one game — a loss with just 235 passing yards — but the early signs are positive from this new-look receiver room.

Marquise Brown, WR, Ravens

I like what we saw from Marquise Brown. His six-catch, 69-yard, one-touchdown performance isn’t necessarily the most eye-popping stat line, but he showed signs of vital improvement in his game.

It wasn’t a flawless outing. On both drag routes he ran, Lamar Jackson pump-faked as if he expected Brown to sit down in the space, but he kept running and forced Jackson to reset.

The first didn’t really impact the play, but the second forced a poor throw which Brown, impressively, plucked off the grass with one hand, but was immediately tackled. What could have been a catch and run, turned into a four-yard catch on 2nd-and-11.

On a more positive note, though, his touchdown and deep crosser for 29 yards showed the danger of his speed. Defenders can’t stick with him if given any time to run.

Also, his hitch at the beginning of the fourth quarter was a beautiful route. He released very well, turned the defensive back, and attacked his blindside. Add the threat of his deep speed, he sold a go route and had huge separation when he cut.

That type of route running shows his development and is how this unit can separate itself from previous receiving corps. Being able to create such separation in his routes means the Ravens should be able to finally open up their passing game.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Ravens

Like Hollywood, Watkins’ stat line may not pop as many may have hoped, but his role and the plays he made offer something the Ravens have been missing.

He did have a disappointing drop, and only had two ‘big’ plays, but they showed the precise reasons the Ravens pursued him.

The first came on a catch and run, flashing his potential after the catch, and the second was his 49-yard catch in the fourth quarter. His ball tracking is very impressive — it has been since he played at Clemson.

His addition to the offense opens the passing game, and this game showed glimpses of that.

James Proche, WR, Ravens

James Proche didn’t get targeted on Monday night, and as things stand, he figures to be a candidate to be inactive on game days or limited to special teams once Rashod Bateman returns from the injured reserve.

Nevertheless, his showing this summer and college résumé should earn him a more regular spot in the offense.

During the preseason he showed all the elements of his game which made him so successful at SMU. He is a nuanced route runner, with good jumping ability and excellent ball tracking skills.

And, despite his size, he has a propensity for making highly difficult, contested, and spectacular catches.

The biggest issue offensively is unquestionably the offensive line. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Jackson was pressured on 54.5 percent of his dropbacks (18-of-33). For comparison, Patrick Mahomes was pressured on 52 percent of his dropbacks in Super Bowl LV (29-of-56).

Getting Proche more snaps can help remedy this. He is shifty, can separate quickly, and is good in contested-catch situations. He has earned the snaps and should play a useful role if he is utilized more going forward.

This isn’t even including Devin Duvernay and Rashod Bateman.

Duvernay is already the recipient of extra snaps on offense in Bateman’s absence, but he didn’t get much opportunity on Monday night. Once Bateman returns from IR, though, it will be interesting to see how the Ravens manage their wide receivers.

Next. Complete list of all Ravens injured players so far in 2021. dark

However they do it, there are reasons to be optimistic about every option, which is an extra reason to be optimistic about the 2021 season.