2009 Shows Hope for 2010 Rookie WRs

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In the AFC matchup, Indianapolis Colts rookie Austin Collie sprinted through the New York Jets' defense with five catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Minnesota Vikings rookie Percy Harvin logged five receptions for 38 yards in the NFC Championship, a quiet outing considering his 60 grabs for 790 yards and six scores all year.

It just goes to show that a rookie at the wide receiver position doesn't mean a lack of production.

While Baltimore faces an interesting situation heading into the offseason with Derrick Mason, Mark ClaytonKelley Washington and Demetrius Williams all hitting free agency or retirement in one form or another, the draft will be critical in adding playmakers to the wide receiving corps.

"We need to have a guy to stretch the field," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said during a radio interview with 105.7 WFAN in Baltimore. "We need a guy that can run past some people, and that will make Joe better. We need a guy inside who can catch a 5-yard hitch and take it the distance. We need a guy that can make a play when he's covered, and that can be at a lot of different positions. It doesn't necessarily have to be the outside or inside receiver. It could be at tight end, or at running back, too."

DeCosta is currently seeing those potential prospects up close in Mobile, Ala., where the Senior Bowl is set to take place.

While the top talents are more obvious at the top of the draft, Collie, a fourth-rounder from BYU who tallied 60 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009, represents a gem the Ravens would love that only hard work can uncover.

But Collie and Harvin aren't the only two rookie receivers to have stellar first years, and the standouts can be found all over the draft.

The first round boasted San Francisco's Michael Crabtree (48 receptions, 625 yards, two touchdowns), Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin (55, 762, 4), New York Giant Hakeem Nicks (47, 790, 6) and Tennessee's Kenny Britt (42, 701, 3) as representatives.

The Pittsburgh Steelers took Mike Wallace from Ole Miss in the third, and he racked up 39 grabs for 756 yards and six scores.

Ohio State's Brian Hartline went to the Miami Dolphins in the fourth, and his 31 catches for 506 yards and three touchdowns are respectable.

And, the Chicago Bears selected Johnny Knox in the fifth round. Knox responded with a 45-catch, 527-yard and five-score year that recently earned him a Pro Bowl berth.

Are there similar finds in this year's class?

"There are a lot of good players out there, and that holds true at receiver," DeCosta noted. "I think there are guys in the second, third and fourth rounds that can come in and help us. We've got to do a better job as an organization of identifying those guys, but I know they're out there."

The Ravens haven't had much success drafting receivers in the past, however.

Many point to 2000's 10th-overall selection Travis Taylor, who was released in 2004 after only one successful season in Baltimore. Devard Darling and Clarence Moore were mid- to late-round picks that never really caught on, and even Clayton, a first-round pick in 2005, has not yet eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.

With Flacco coming off a solid sophomore campaign ready to take the next step, surrounding him with weapons is paramount.

"I think right now, we're looking at Joe as an investment, and everything we do as an organization has to be able to make Joe play better," said DeCosta. "We have to protect Joe, No. 1, which is one of the reasons we drafted Michael Oher last year. I think playmakers are really at a premium right now for us, whether that's at tight end, at running back, or receiver. We have to find some playmakers, guys that can get the football in their hands and make something happen."

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