Eisenberg: Is Ravens' Veteran WR Habit About to End?

WR Rashod Bateman runs against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, December 12, 2021 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.

In recent years, you could count on the Ravens bringing in veteran wide receivers to boost their passing game.

Before Sammy Watkins in 2021, they had Dez Bryant in 2020, Willie Snead IV from 2018 through 2020, Michael Crabtree and John Brown in 2018, Jeremy Maclin in 2017 and Mike Wallace in 2016 and 2017.

It's an organizational itch the Ravens have scratched for a long time, going back to the years when Steve Smith Sr., Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason piled up receptions.

Of course, the itch developed mainly because the Ravens weren't getting enough out of their homegrown wide receivers, i.e., the ones they drafted and sought to develop.

It's a long story, told many times, and I won't dive back into it now except to say I'm pretty sure some of those recent veterans wouldn't have come to Baltimore if Breshad Perriman had become the star the Ravens envisioned when they made him a first-round draft pick in 2015.

When he didn't blossom, the Ravens embarked on a major fix. In 2019, they drafted Marquise Brown in the first round and Miles Boykin in the third round. In 2020, they took Devin Duvernay in the third round and James Proche II in the sixth round. In 2021, they added Rashod Bateman in the first round and Tylan Wallace in the fourth round.

In 2021, those six young receivers totaled 189 receptions for 2,026 yards, the bulk of the Ravens' production at the position.

Watkins, signed to a one-year deal at age 28, made several big plays early in the season but tailed off and finished with 27 catches, his career low.

As the Ravens plan for 2022, I'm thinking this could be the year when they finally don't scratch their itch for a veteran wide receiver.

Although Brown's 2021 season included several key drops and no touchdown catches after Week 7, he surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time and DeCosta recently expressed confidence in his arrow continuing to point up.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Bateman also become a thousand-yard producer. An injury delayed the start of his rookie season, but once he was on the field, he exhibited poise, hands, toughness and professionalism.

Beyond penciling in Brown and Bateman as starters, the time feels right to give Duvernay and Proche larger roles.

Duvernay went from 20 catches in 2020 to 33 last year, and his confidence surely is soaring after his trip to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist. Proche only caught 16 passes in 2021, but he flashed playmaking ability on several occasions and is among the team's most palpably hungry players. He deserves more of a chance to show what he can do in the slot.

Wallace didn't get many snaps as a rookie, but he has the requisite toughness and his confidence surely is soaring, too, after he emerged as a key contributor on special teams.

That leaves Boykin, who plummeted on the depth chart and made just one catch in 2021. But he continued to contribute on special teams, and with his size, could always re-emerge as a red-zone threat.

Sure, it's possible the Ravens will add a veteran to the group. But their salary cap situation virtually guarantees it would be a bargain signing.

With their limited cap flexibility, they have to be careful, and they have greater needs at other positions, starting with the offensive and defensive lines.

If they add skill-position players on offense, my hunch is they'll prioritize a veteran running back. Their called running game (as opposed to quarterback scrambles) wasn't as effective in 2021, and it's a fundamental part of the offense built around Lamar Jackson.

They're counting on J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards recovering from major injuries and giving the ground game the boost it needs, but as the team officials acknowledge, injury timelines are impossible to predict. I'd look for a Mark Ingram-style signing.

It wouldn't surprise me to see the Ravens draft another wide receiver; they're certainly accustomed to taking swings there.

But after stocking the position with young talent, they don't really need a veteran anymore.

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