The Ravens are in the market for a wide receiver, but they don't have to shop for one in the first round.
Circumstances are different than last year, when the Ravens drafted wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown in the first round (25th overall). Brown was the first wide receiver off the board, and he filled an immediate need – a game-breaking deep threat who provided a big-play target for Lamar Jackson.
Brown's future looks bright after a promising rookie year (46 catches, 584 yards, seven touchdowns) and a sparkling performance in the divisional playoffs (seven catches, 126 yards). Considering that Brown was never 100 percent last season following foot surgery in January, his ceiling his extremely high for next season after he spends the offseason getting healthier and stronger.
After drafting Brown and Miles Boykin (third round) last year, the Ravens can wait to select a wide receiver who could make an immediate impact. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper called this draft historically deep at the position.
"There is going to be at least 25 receivers taken in the first [few] rounds," Kiper said during a conference call this week. "About 18-20 in the first three, and if you extend that to Round 4, there's probably 25 receivers taken."
In his latest mock draft, Kiper projects five wide receivers being taken in the first round overall, and four before the Ravens pick at No. 28 – CeeDee Lamb of Oklahoma, Jerry Jeudy of Alabama, Tee Higgins of Clemson and Henry Ruggs III of Alabama. Kiper projects wide receiver Justin Jefferson of LSU also going in the first round (No. 30 overall) to the Packers. Kiper said Jefferson's 40-yard dash time will determine whether he's worthy of a first-round pick.
"I think it's going to be very tough to find [a wide receiver] at that point [for the Ravens]," Kiper said. "I think [a linebacker] would supersede a wide receiver who doesn't have a first-round grade."
However, if Kiper is anywhere close to being correct about the depth of this year's receiver class, the Ravens can wait until Day 2 of the draft to find a wideout in the second or third round.
KJ Hamler of Penn State is a wide receiver who Kiper mentioned as a potential target. It's interesting that Hamler has similarities to Brown, small in stature for an NFL wideout (5-foot-9, 176 pounds), but big on explosiveness with breakaway speed.
In his three-round mock draft, Eddie Brown of the San Diego Union-Tribune has the Ravens taking Hamler in the second round. Kiper said Hamler would be a first-round pick if he were more consistent. Hamler caught 98 passes for 1,658 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons at Penn State, and he was also a dynamic punt returner, a skillset that the Ravens could use to improve on special teams.
If the Ravens want a wide receiver who's bigger than Hamler, there should be several to choose from Day 2. Potential targets include Michael Pittman Jr. of USC, Laviska Shenault Jr. of Colorado, and Jalen Reagor of TCU. Shenault has dealt with some injuries, but he was still hoping to the run at the NFL Combine next week in Indianapolis, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Ravens could also add depth at wide receiver during free agency or via a trade. However, with this year's draft so deep at the position, the Ravens have a good chance to find one to their liking. General Manager Eric DeCosta talked about "taking more swings" at the wide receiver position after he became general manager last year, and he followed through by taking Brown and Boykin.
Improving the front seven on defense seems like a bigger priority for the Ravens this year, and that's something the Ravens may focus on with their first-round pick. However, wide receivers remain on their radar, and, fortunately, this draft gives them plenty to chose from after the first round.
"We have a really good feel for the type of receivers we want to bring in," Head Coach John Harbaugh said at his season-ending press conference. "I know it's a great year for wide receivers, I've been told, in the draft."