I realize I’m way early with this, as Marquise “Hollywood” Brown’s NFL career consists of exactly two games so far. So I’ll put it this way: It appears the Ravens have finally done it – drafted a wide receiver who is a big-time playmaker.
Their struggle to do that has been, as you know, a nettlesome storyline for the franchise. Few teams have done more with the draft in the past quarter-century than the Ravens, but their uneven record with receivers has been their dragon, i.e., the snarling beast that keeps them awake at night.
Brown doesn’t look like a potential dragon slayer at 5-feet-10 and 170 pounds. When the Ravens made him their first-round pick and the No. 26 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, more than a few analysts second-guessed the move. He was rehabbing a Lisfranc foot injury at the time.
But he is healthy now, and as the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals can attest, he has started his pro career with the kind of bang that suggests big things lie ahead.
He has gone deep and reeled in game-changing catches. He has gone over the middle and moved the chains. He has caught a short pass and turned it into a long touchdown.
His two-game total of 233 receiving yards is the second-most for any NFL receiver in his first two career games since 1996, according to a Pro Football Focus scribe. The only guy who recorded more? Anquan Boldin.
And what’s really amazing is Brown has done it despite missing spring practices and much of training camp and the preseason due to that foot injury. As Allen Iverson might have said, “Practice? Who needs practice?”
He gets open. He catches the ball. Games change. It’s all happening now because, bottom line, the Ravens didn’t let their draft history at the position deter them from taking another shot.
“One of the things we have to do is just take some at-bats and swing,” General Manager Eric DeCosta said in April, before the draft. “It’s hard to be a .400 hitter if you’re only at-bat twice. We’ve got to take some chances. We’ve got to find some guys that we like and try to appreciate the really good football players, the guys that make plays.”
The Ravens knew Brown was freakishly fast, as everyone did. They also knew he wasn’t just “straight-line fast,” meaning he could dart here and there both before and after he made catches.
But I don’t think anyone expected him to run such solid routes and exhibit such sure hands and canny instincts from the outset of his pro career.
“He’s a receiver,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday’s win, emphasizing that Brown possesses the full package of skills the position requires, as opposed to just speed.
The lack of homegrown playmaking at receiver has given the Ravens fits over the years, forcing the front office to make trades and free-agent expenditures it otherwise wouldn’t. The Ravens definitely have operated at a playmaking deficit recently when compared to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the AFC North.
Brown’s emergence could be part of a momentous development, namely, the flipping of that script in the division.
The Steelers have subtracted their biggest offensive stars, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was declared out for the season Monday with an elbow injury. The Cleveland Browns have a stable of playmakers, but with Brown and quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens’ explosiveness compares with anyone’s.
The big question about Brown going forward is, of course, his durability. He is going to get hit. He isn’t big. Can he stay on the field? Thus far, Brown, like Jackson, has been adept at “getting down” and avoiding contact.
Brown also is bound to experience some lows to go with these highs. That’s how pro football works.
But the early signs couldn’t be more promising. For years, I’ve suggested fans should hold a parade if the Ravens ever slayed their dragon at wide receiver. Maybe it’s still too soon to schedule that parade. But you might want to clear your calendar.