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Zay Flowers Is Off to a Historic Start, And the Ceiling Is Much Higher

WR Zay Flowers
WR Zay Flowers

Zay Flowers has already posted impressive numbers as a rookie, and the season isn't halfway over.

Flowers is on pace to top 1,000 receiving yards in his rookie season. Leading the Ravens in catches (39) and receiving yards (442) heading into their Week 8 game against the Cardinals, Flowers has joined historic company among NFL rookies.

He's just the second rookie receiver since 1970 to tally at least 50 yards from scrimmage in his first seven games. The other was Ja'Marr Chase of the Bengals, who did it in 2021 when he was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The Ravens have been looking for a homegrown superstar wide receiver for a long time. They've drafted three wide receivers in the first round the past five years, including one that will be on the other sideline this Sunday in Arizona. Flowers isn't there yet, but it looks like he may get there.

Flowers is making the transition to the NFL look easier than it is, but nobody on the team is surprised. Lamar Jackson sees a kindred spirit in Flowers, another athlete from South Florida who has an electrifying skillset and the drive to maximize his talents.

"He's explosive. He wants to be great," Jackson said. "He's willing to learn. He's doing everything [at] full speed, and that's what you need to do in the league."

To put Flowers' first seven games in perspective, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown had 46 catches and 584 receiving yards in 14 games as a rookie for the Ravens in 2019. Flowers should blow by those numbers if he stays healthy. He has a chance to eclipse the franchise record for rookie receiving yards, held by Torrey Smith with 841 yards in 2011.

Baltimore will face Brown for the first time Sunday at State Farm Stadium after he was traded last offseason. The decision to part ways was mutual, as Brown requested a trade and General Manager Eric DeCosta obliged, dealing Brown to Arizona in exchange for a first-round pick, which netted center Tyler Linderbaum.

Having Flowers and Brown on the same field Sunday will create a major storyline for the game, but Flowers isn't getting caught up in the hype. One reason for Flowers' success is his ability to focus.

There's pressure that comes with being a first-round pick, but Flowers seems oblivious to it. Growing up with nine brothers and four sisters, Flowers learned how to stand out from the crowd at a young age. He works hard, he's smart, and he's relying on older teammates such as Jackson, Odell Beckham Jr., Nelson Agholor and Rashod Bateman for guidance.

"I don't feel any pressure," Flowers said. "I have so many guys around me who can make plays. I just go out and play, I've got multiple first-round picks around me – Bate, Odell, Nelly, Lamar. Mark (Andrews) wasn't a first-round pick, but he plays like one. I'm just playing football. I've been doing this my whole life."

As the 22nd-overall pick, Flowers was expected to contribute right away, but he's been an even bigger part of the offense than expected as the team's most targeted receiver.

His speed and run-after-catch ability have made him a difficult cover in the NFL, just as he was at Boston College. The most recent example was Baltimore's 38-6 victory over the Lions in Week 7, when Flowers jumpstarted the offensive burst with a 46-yard completion on Baltimore's first drive. Even then, his wide receivers coaches told him on the sideline that he probably could have scored if he trusted his speed to burn defenders up the sideline after the catch instead of cutting back. There's room for more.

Cornerbacks must respect Flowers' speed, but if they give him a cushion, he's still difficult to tackle once he catches the ball. It didn't take Marlon Humphrey long to figure out that Flowers wasn't going to be an ordinary rookie.

"I saw clips of him pre-draft and I was thinking to myself, 'Man I hope we draft this guy so I don't have to guard him,'" Humphrey said. "He got here and right away he was able to get releases on corners. He's a small guy but he plays really tough. That's one of the most surprising things about a small, quick guy like that. He's not a guy that catches it and tries to get out of bounds. He'll sometimes go into contact. He does a lot of things that make him a really good receiver."

"He plays with confidence," cornerback Brandon Stephens added. "I think that's the biggest thing with rookies, just coming in with confidence and knowing that they're here for a reason. I think he's had that mentality from the jump and that's allowed him to accelerate his growth."

Jackson's ability to extend plays only adds to Flowers' ability to make plays. They've established quick chemistry, and on Flowers' only touchdown catch of the season against the Titans in London, Jackson bought extra time allowing Flowers to work free.

There are many reasons to believe that Flowers will only improve as he gains experience.

"He's very smart, and yet, he's not anywhere near where he's going to be, in terms of understanding the offense," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

"He's still learning the nuances of the routes. [Wide Receivers Coach] Greg [Lewis] does a great job with him. Greg Lewis and [Assistant Wide Receivers Coach] Keith Williams both do a great job with those guys. He's doing great, but he's going to get a lot better. I promise you, he's very determined to keep getting better."

Flowers would concur with that. He's off to a terrific start as a rookie, but he's hoping Baltimore's 38-6 point outburst in Week 7 is a sign of things to come.

"I don't think that's the ceiling. I think we can do more," Flowers said. "I think that was just the start. That was just a little taste [of it] I think."

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