Willie Snead IV already has more receiving yards than he did last season. But if you measure the veteran wide receiver simply by statistics, you're missing the bigger picture.
"I'm seeing from Willie what we always get from Willie," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He's an incredibly steady player, a very consistent player. He's in the right spots, he'll make tough catches, he does the dirty work as far as blocking, he's always prepared.
"He's a guy you can count on, and those are the kind of guys you've got to have out there. In those kinds of games, the guys who you can count on to be in the right spot, do the right thing, make the good, solid play, that's invaluable. And players need to understand that. That's what he does. Willie is exceptional at that."
With the Ravens (6-3) dealing with significant injuries and battling for a playoff spot with seven games remaining, Snead's presence (25 catches, 356 yards, three touchdowns) is critical to the Ravens down the stretch. Fourteen of his receptions have come over the last three games, and Snead scored both Baltimore touchdowns during their 23-17 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night.
Now in his seventh NFL season, Snead entered the league as a guy who wasn't expected to make it. He was undrafted rookie from Ball State who was cut by both the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers as a rookie in 2014 before he stuck with the New Orleans Saints. Some receivers were faster. Others were bigger. But few were more determined.
Nothing has come easy for Snead in the NFL, and the remainder of the season won't be easy for Baltimore. But this is Snead's kind of situation. He's built to handle adversity, and he still believes the 2020 Ravens are built that way, too. He is the team's most experienced receiver, and he knows how to put the highs and lows of a long season into perspective.
"I don't think this loss is going to define our season by any means," Snead said following Sunday's game. "I give the Patriots a lot of credit. They did what they had to do to win the game. We just have to be better, and I think we will continue to take strides in the passing game [and] offensively as a whole, and we'll get better from this.
"We're going to find out about the mold of this team – offense and defense. I think a lot of guys that are going to have to step up, they will step up, and they will show they can make an impact on this team – whoever that may be."
One of the keys to Snead's success is his knowledge of the game. He's the son of a football coach, Willie Snead III, and he won a state championship playing for his dad at Holland Christian School in Michigan. Snead still works out with his father during the offseason, and he reported to training camp in the best shape of his career.
Speed's increased athleticism has been evident on the field. His first score Sunday came on a 6-yard jet sweep, a play that amplified Snead's determination to reach the end zone. After taking the toss from Lamar Jackson, Snead outran John Simon to get outside, brushed off an attempted tackle by Jonathan Jones near the goal line and squeezed just inside the pylon before Devin McCourty could push Snead out of bounds.
Snead's second score was an 18-yard reception from Jackson, after Snead found a soft spot in the Patriots' zone coverage. It was raining hard at this point of the game, and Snead made sure on the catch, using his body and arms to cradle the football.
Snead established himself as an NFL receiver with the Saints, catching 69 passes for 984 yards in 2015 and 72 catches for 895 yards in 2016. In his first season with the Ravens in 2018, Snead caught 62 passes for 651 yards, and he adjusted quickly when the Ravens dramatically changed their offense when Jackson took over as the starting quarterback. Snead knew Jackson was an extraordinary talent who could lead them to wins as a dual threat quarterback. Snead also knew his ability to get open, along with his blocking and toughness, would fit into the system well.
That has proven to be true, and now Snead remains focused on helping the Ravens finish the season strong. Losing tight end Nick Boyle for the season Sunday will force the offense to make more adjustments, but Snead remains optimistic. He always is.
"I'm excited to see what happens for us," Snead said. "We're 6-3; we're still in a good spot."