Time to Build a Young, Talented Wide Receiver Corps
The Ravens could be going through another receiver room rebuild this offseason, and it's General Manager Eric DeCosta's opportunity to turn around Baltimore's troubles at the position.
As Ravens fans are well aware, if there was one Achilles heel in the Ravens' roster construction, it's been at wide receiver.
"For all the praise former general manager Ozzie Newsome gets for his drafting acumen, the team's fan base will quickly remind you about the organization's tortured history at wide receiver," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
Zrebiec points out that the Ravens have never sent a wide receiver to the Pro Bowl, as Jermaine Lewis and Jacoby Jones went as return specialists. Only one of the 27 receivers the Ravens have ever drafted (Torrey Smith in 2013) has topped 1,000 yards.
The Ravens have had more success in adding free-agent wide receivers such as Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace. Last year, John Brown looked like a huge hit midway through the season before fading when Lamar Jackson took over.
Now, with Jackson entrenched as the Ravens' starter of the present and future, Zrebiec sees this as the time to invest more into the position.
"The time has clearly come for the Ravens to build a young and talented receiving corps around their young and developing quarterback, Lamar Jackson," Zrebiec wrote. "Actually, it is long, long overdue."
"Baltimore has to go back to the drawing board for 2019 and that means once again gutting their wide receiver corps," added Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens.
Zrebiec isn't hopping on board with what DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh have said about free-agent wide receivers wanting to come play in Baltimore. Neither is WNST’s Luke Jones.
They believe the Ravens need to attack this need via the draft with multiple swings of the bat. The more swings, the greater the chance of hitting a home run. As Zrebiec noted, the Ravens have drafted just two receivers (Smith and Breshad Perriman) in the first three rounds in the past 11 drafts.
By comparison, the Steelers have drafted a wide receiver in the first three rounds in eight of the past 11 drafts. There have been misses, but there's also been some big hits (Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, JuJu Smith-Schuster). That's not counting Antonio Brown in the sixth round (2010).
Of course, the Steelers have had trouble drafting at other positions, and they are seemingly perennially looking to upgrade their defense. If you invest that heavily at one position, it leaves you thin at others.
Still, it may be time to pour more resources into the position, and focus on adding wideouts that complement Jackson. Wide receiver is a popular choice for the Ravens in recent mock drafts.
The Athletic's Dane Brugler has Baltimore selecting Ole Miss wideout D.K. Metcalf at No. 22. So does Bleacher Report's Matt Miller in his seven-round mock draft.
"The Ravens need to take more cracks early in the draft at finding starting-caliber receivers. That's the first thing that needs to change," Zrebiec wrote. "The second thing is a focus on adding — either through the draft or free agency — receivers who consistently make the routine and contested catches."
The Ravens had the highest wide receiver drop rate of any team in the NFL last season.
DeCosta talked a little about what the Ravens are looking for in wide receivers this year. He brought up that blocking is very important in what will be a run-heavy scheme. DeCosta said a player that catches the football is "first and foremost" and "toughness" came next on his list before "speed."
"Baltimore's offense has always been at its best when they had strong-handed wide receivers who could win quickly," Stevens wrote.
"Anquan Boldin comes to mind as the perfect example of a Ravens player with little top-end speed but a knack for getting just enough separation and making every catch to be an asset in Baltimore's scheme. Finding players both in the draft and free agency that fit that skill set should be one of the Ravens' top priorities this offseason."
10 Salary-Cap Casualties, Ranked in Order of Likelihood
There's obviously going to be some addition by subtraction this offseason as DeCosta made it clear that he wants to give the Ravens in better salary-cap health.
The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker ranked 10 possible cuts in order of likelihood: likely gone, difficult choices and less likely source of savings.
Only two players, quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Michael Crabtree, made the list for likely gone. Flacco is a given. Crabtree would offer a savings of $4.67 million, so the Ravens will need to determine whether they can get a better wideout for that money (it's a thin market) or roll the dice and go young (as discussed above).
Safety Eric Weddle, cornerback Jimmy Smith and guard Marshal Yanda made the list of "difficult choices," though Yanda's was more about whether he will retire. Check out the full list.
Cleveland Browns Predicted to Win AFC North
The Browns hype train is off and running after they went 5-2 down the stretch to finish last season with a 7-8-1 record.
They seem to have finally solved their quarterback woes with Baker Mayfield, have a new head coach in Freddie Kitchens and made some shrewd front-office moves. Now they enter the offseason loaded with salary-cap space and draft picks.
"Per NFLPA records, the Cleveland Browns are carrying over $56.5 million in salary space into the new league year, easily the most in the league. They also will have eight draft picks within the first five rounds," Zrebiec wrote. "It's a little early for the 2019 prognostications, but my guess is the Browns will be billed as the AFC North favorites by plenty of folks."
Yup, you're right Jeff. ESPN's Dan Graziano predicted the Browns to win the AFC North among his 10 bold predictions for next season.
"I think this is going to be a popular one come summertime, so let's get out ahead of it," Graziano wrote. "As you likely figured out by reading Items 2 and 3 above, things are falling apart a bit in Pittsburgh. And I predict some more growing pains for Lamar Jackson in Baltimore (though I still like him long term)."
ESPN also released its way-too-early offseason power rankings. The Ravens come in at No. 10, just ahead of the Steelers at No. 11. The Browns are at No. 15.
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