Finding playmakers at wide receiver has been an elusive target over the years in Baltimore.
The Ravens hit it big with Torrey Smith in the second round of the 2011 draft, and he went on to catch more touchdown passes than any other receiver in team history.
But now Smith is in San Francisco, leaving the Ravens with a need to inject some additional young life into the receiving corps. Taking a first-round receiver has been a popular projection to Baltimore throughout the mock drafts, and the Ravens like their odds of finding a playmaker if they decide to go that route.
"I'm confident," Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said. "I think we do a great job of evaluating players. I think we know what we want. We've made our share of mistakes, but I think we're ready to move forward and nail some guys."
Some of the likely receiver options at No. 26 include Arizona State's Jaelen Strong, Central Florida's Breshad Perriman, Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham, Michigan's Devin Funchess and Ohio State's Devin Smith.
The Ravens have emphasized throughout the pre-draft process that they don't have a glaring need at receiver. Despite Smith's departure, the Ravens have high expectations for young targets Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro and Jeremy Butler if they get more playing time.
Adding another young target to the mix would create more competition among the group, and recent history suggests the Ravens could find a* *pass catcher to make an immediate impact. Last year's draft saw five receivers drafted in the first round and 15 in the first three rounds. All of the first-round picks performed at a high level, and the Ravens also like the potential of this year's class.
"It seems like receivers in general have been contributing faster over the last couple of years. Last year the receiver class was outstanding," DeCosta said. "We think that we can get a good receiver in a lot of different rounds. Fortunately there are some really talented guys and hopefully we can get one."
The overall improvement of receivers entering the NFL has come as college game has evolved. More teams are running pass heavy offenses, which gives receivers the opportunity to develop at a younger age and immediately contribute at the professional level.
"The receiver position is changing – the size and the speed, and the fact more colleges are in the spread offense throwing the ball," General Manager Ozzie Newsome said. "The game has changed, so because the college game has changed, receivers are coming into the league a little bit better prepared. I think that will just help us to do better."
Another important part of the equation is the confidence the Ravens have in quarterback Joe Flacco. The franchise quarterback is heading into his eighth season and the Ravens have won more games than any other team during his career.
The Ravens have drafted just one receiver higher than the fourth round since Flacco arrived, but he's still guided the Ravens to consistent playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title. As the Ravens consider the possibility of replenishing the receiver room, the front office considers Flacco a significant asset for whatever round they draft a pass catcher.
"I have tremendous confidence in Joe Flacco and his ability to develop receivers," DeCosta aid. "We've seen that over the last couple of years. We've seen guys like Marlon Brown make plays. You saw Aiken last year make plays for us.
"It's very, very hard to be a really good wide receiver without a really good quarterback. You can look at any team in the league that has good receivers, and you'll see a quarterback who is pretty darn good."