The Ravens may do another makeover at wide receiver, going for a different and younger look.
Having already released veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree, the team’s decision-makers are at the NFL Combine seeking young playmakers who fit best with franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson.
In John Harbaugh’s 11 seasons as head coach, just one Ravens wide receiver has enjoyed a 1,000-yard season when he was under 30 years old. Torrey Smith did it in 2013 at the age of 24. He’s the only wideout Baltimore has ever drafted that hit four digits.
Derrick Mason topped 1,000 yards twice in 2008 and 2009 when he was 34 and 35, Mike Wallace had a 1,000-yard season in 2016 when he was 30, and Steve Smith Sr. had a 1,000-yard season in 2014 when he was 35. But the Ravens are in the market for a young receiver in this year’s draft class who can bring more explosiveness to the offense.
“We’d love to bring in some young guys and have them develop a relationship with Lamar Jackson moving forward,” Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta said. “We’ve got to add playmakers … guys that can work with Lamar, take some of the burden off of Lamar and make plays in critical situations. That will always be a priority for us, I think, going forward and something we hope to do this year.”
DeCosta said the Ravens will look for playmakers at tight end, running back and wide receiver, but wide receiver is, for now, seemingly the biggest need of the three. Baltimore drafted Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews last year, and undrafted rookie Gus Edwards emerged as the No. 1 running back heading into 2019.
Potential draft targets for the Ravens at wide receiver include D.K Metcalf and A.J. Brown from Ole Miss, Marquise Brown of Oklahoma, N’Keal Harry of Arizona State, Kelvin Harmon of North Carolina State, Parris Campbell of Ohio State, Deebo Samuel of South Carolina, Hakeem Butler of Iowa State, Andy Isabella of Massachusetts, Riley Ridley of Georgia and more.
Those receivers offer different sizes and styles, and it’s not unconceivable the Ravens could draft more than one wide receiver. Brown won’t work out at the Combine, still recovering from Lisfranc foot surgery.
But as the Ravens consider options with their first-round pick (No. 22) and throughout the draft, the Ravens need to have more success drafting wide receivers, not just this year, but moving forward as they build an offense around Jackson. The Ravens have hit on some veteran free agents, but their draft history at the position is not strong.
“We were pretty successful with those level guys, top-level type players. That’s one way to do it,” Harbaugh said, citing Mason, Anquan Boldin and Smith. “The other way to do it is to draft and then develop them. I don’t think we’ve done as well as we need to do with that, so maybe we can take that path and make that one work, too.”
Breshad Perriman was the last wide receiver the Ravens drafted in the first round (2015), and he never made a significant impact before being released prior the start of last season. Scouts consider this year’s draft class to be deep at wide receiver, but every year there are prospects who don’t live up to expectations. DeCosta says the wide receiver position is one of the most challenging positions to evaluate.
“It's just a really tough position to play,” DeCosta said. “There's a lot of different factors. It's not an individual position. You've got to have a really good quarterback who can get the ball to you. You're not out there on an island like a corner might be or a left tackle who's blocking a defensive end. You've got to depend on other players to help you succeed.”
DeCosta said, for now, the Ravens won’t consult with Jackson about what draft prospects to add around him. It’s something Baltimore has done at times with veterans, but Jackson has enough on his plate as he enters his first full offseason.
Jackson does have some familiarity with young receivers already. The Ravens drafted two wide receivers last year, Jaleel Scott (fourth round) and Jordan Lasley (fifth round), but Scott (hamstring) spent the season on injured reserve, while Lasley was inactive for every game despite making the 53-man roster. DeCosta still believes in Scott and Lasley’s potential.
“We’re excited about those guys moving forward,” DeCosta said. “We think a good offseason is going to really pay dividends with both Jaleel, and also Lasley.”
However, the Ravens need a Plan B at wide receiver if Scott or Lasley fail to make a significant jump. Their leading pass-catcher last season was Willie Snead IV (62 catches, 651 yards, one touchdown), who established a consistent chemistry with Jackson. However, the production of veteran wide receiver John Brown (42 catches, 715 yards, five touchdowns) dropped off significantly in the second half of the season, when the Ravens made the quarterback switch from Joe Flacco to Jackson and the Ravens became a run-heavy offense.
Can Brown be a more productive receiver if the Ravens re-sign him? DeCosta did not rule out the possibility.
“Well, we love 'Smoke,’” DeCosta said. “And I think he had a really, really good season for us. I think his production dropped off a little bit when we changed the offense to a degree. We became more of a running team. But he's a playmaker. He's got great speed. He's a humble, great person. He's a good practice player. We want as many good players as we can bring back to Baltimore.”
If the Ravens don’t re-sign Brown, they may acquire another veteran receiver later in the offseason. But the Ravens are looking to draft wide receivers who can make an immediate and long-term impact, prospects who will look even better on Sundays than they do at the Combine.