It wasn’t hard to discern what Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh was intimating when he spoke to reporters after the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied to beat his team on Christmas.
“They made big plays and got the ball in the end zone. Obviously, that was the difference in the game,” Harbaugh said.
Translation: We need playmakers.
It has become a common theme among the team’s decision-makers since the Ravens went 8-8 in 2016 and missed the playoffs.
“We need playmakers in Baltimore,” Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz told my colleague Ryan Mink at the Senior Bowl earlier this month. “That’s what wins you games, guys on offense that can make the critical catch on third down. To be honest, our season ended disappointingly with a guy that made a great football play.”
No translation required there. Hortiz flat-out said the Ravens need playmakers.
It’s certainly true, and there’ll be plenty of talk about various free agents and potential draft picks in the coming weeks. But honestly, whenever I hear team officials talk about playmaking, an image of a guy already on the team flashes in my head.
In my purple glossary, “we need playmakers” is code for “we need
Is there any doubt?
The Ravens had the same need when they drafted Perriman with their first-round pick, No. 26 overall, two years ago. It went without saying that they hoped they were getting a difference-making receiver. That’s what any team expects from any skill-position player taken so high.
But the Ravens are still waiting for Perriman, 23, to become that guy.
After a major knee injury sidelined him as a rookie, he debuted in 2016, catching 33 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns, relatively modest totals. There were flashes of brilliance, but Perriman also dropped balls, shied from contact at times and disappeared for long stretches.
As they formulate a plan for 2017, the Ravens are looking for what GM Ozzie Newsome called a “complementary” veteran receiver, and also possibly a running back with “pop” potential. But make no mistake, what they really want is more playmaking from the young guy already here.
Is it fair to expect that? I think so. Everyone could see he was raw last season, but when he put his speed to use in 2016, it took your breath away. Now he needs to put his head down, take the same developmental step as a young Torrey Smith and start grinding out those third-down receptions Hortiz referenced.
“I know what I need to work on, my route running,” Perriman said after the season.
Remember, because of the knee injuries that threatened to derail his career before it started, he has never experienced a normal, healthy offseason or training camp, key periods for a young player. In other words, he’s just getting going. If you’re ready to dismiss him already, slow down. Between his obvious natural ability and earnest attitude, which draws praise from veterans, it’s still possible a bona fide playmaker is lurking.
“To me, there are signs that is possible,” Harbaugh said. “But he has a ways to go; he has a lot of work to do to get it done. You see the radius and you see the speed, and I think you see that here is a guy who has a chance. Now, he has to refine his route-running, he has to refine his hands, his catching and just become an all-around really good receiver. This is his first year of practicing. He did not even have training camp. To me, there is a lot of upside there.”
Going forward, the Ravens are looking for improvement from a host of young players such as linebacker
But Perriman tops that list.
Bringing in productive veteran receivers can help; the Ravens certainly have worked that angle well. But to bolster your long-range prospects, there’s no substitute for developing your own young playmaker – a guy who will be around.
The Ravens drafted Perriman with that idea, and as he enters his third season, finally healthy, with experience to build on, they need him to become the guy they envisioned.