Eisenberg: Ravens Added The Playmaker They Needed

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When the Ravens were ready to make the No. 25 pick in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft Thursday night, they faced a fundamental quandary: Should they bulk up or speed up?

Several top interior linemen, each potentially an instant starter, were still available. With the Ravens rebranding their offense as a more run-oriented attack around Lamar Jackson, they couldn’t possibly go wrong giving their offensive line a boost.

But every wide receiver in the draft class also was still available, and no doubt, that was another position of need. It’s no secret the Ravens have lacked consistent young playmakers in their receiving corps.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, I made it clear that I’d be fine with them taking a lineman with their first pick. But I’m not about to quibble with their selection of Marquise (Hollywood) Brown, a receiver from Oklahoma.

It sends a clear signal that the days of Baltimore being slow and predictable on offense are over. Between Brown and Jackson, a pair of South Florida natives who’ve known each other for years, there’s suddenly a deep wellspring of speed, flash and playmaking on that side of the ball.

Jackson displayed those qualities as a rookie in 2018, and Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta expects Brown to follow suit.

“He can run a deep route. He can run an underneath route. He’s electric. He’s a playmaker. He’s going to be an asset for this offense,” DeCosta said late Thursday night.

In the end, it seems the Ravens didn’t ponder the “bulk up or speed up” quandary for long. Going with a receiver was the “obvious” choice, DeCosta said, and the deciding factor among the team’s decisionmakers was the memory of how hard it was for the offense to score touchdowns once Jackson replaced Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback last November

It wasn’t that the offense couldn’t score; to the contrary, it put up plenty of points down the stretch as the Ravens came from far behind to capture the AFC North title. But with an absence of big-play capabilities, the offense almost always had to grind out long, slow drives to reach the end zone. Lots of plays. Lots of third down conversions. Lots of time off the clock.

Missing from the picture, almost entirely, were the big strikes that so many other teams rely on. That ramped up the pressure on Jackson, who not only had to make plays and move the chains but also avoid drive-killing mistakes. His margin for error was slim.

Drafting a lineman would have bolstered the running game, but with Brown’s selection, the Ravens are hoping to add that home-run hitter their offense has lacked -- for several years, actually. If Brown can hit a few out of the park, he’ll alleviate some of that pressure on Jackson.

Are there questions about the pick? Sure. Brown’s last season at Oklahoma was cut short by a Lisfranc foot injury. Those can be devilish. Brown will be rehabbing for several more months.

He’s also – no other way to put this – a pretty small guy at 5-feet-9 and 170 pounds. One can only hope he’s ready to handle the NFL’s crushing physical rigors.

But the Ravens still ranked him ahead of every other receiver in the draft. They’ve studied up on his injury and feel good about his prognosis. And they love everything else about him. He’s hungry, plays with a chip on his shoulder from having been told he’s too small. He’s accustomed to the big time, coming from Oklahoma.

Most importantly, he fits right into what the Ravens are doing with their offense, i.e., making it younger and faster, especially at the skill positions. He’s going to be a threat to break a big play on every touch. I’m sure Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman is already doodling ways to get the ball in his hands – on reverses, quick screens and a variety of routes.

The Ravens said they needed more playmakers. Well, they got one.

Check out first-round pick Marquise Brown's custom suit jacket, his green room experience and his emotions upon being drafted by the Ravens.

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