The situation is all too familiar to any longtime Ravens fans. From NFL Network analysts to local talk show chatter to discussion on message boards, there’s a repetitive theme; the Ravens need to upgrade at wide receiver. A little while back, I took a look at the Ravens’ history of drafting wide receivers, and the results have been sub-par, to say the least.
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With the 1st wave of free agency waning, Baltimore had several discussions with free agent wideouts, a near miss with TY Hilton and eventually landed veteran Sammy Watkins on a 1 year deal. In other words, the 2021 off season is playing out like several others in franchise history, thus far. There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief that the organization was able to acquire SOMEONE at receiver but in reality, the Watkins signing doesn’t do much to move the proverbial needle. If healthy, Watkins can be a solid, if unspectacular addition. Health has been the big “if” with Watkins, as he’s missed around 30% of his games the over the last 3 seasons. Time will tell if Watkins has an Anquan Boldin like impact or a Jeremy Maclin/Mike Wallace/Michael Crabtree, et al, type impact.
Like many other NFL teams, the Ravens are dealing with cap constraints this offseason. Given other, and arguably more pressing, needs, the organization has to be judicious with their limited cap space. The big splash to this point has been agreeing to terms with free agent guard Kevin Zeitler. Still left on the list; edge rusher, depth at inside linebacker, center, tight end and additional help at wide receiver. With the market drying up and the budget being tight, Baltimore must turn to the draft.
In his first two seasons at the helm, general manager Eric DeCosta has been more aggressive in drafting wide receivers than his predecessor, Ozzie Newsome. In the last two drafts, the Ravens have selected Hollywood Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche. Brown and Boykin have seen the most action of the young quartet, with Brown making the biggest impact as a pass catcher, whereas Boykin has mostly contributed as a blocker. Duvernay and Proche could potentially be in line for more offensive snaps in 2021, depending on how the remainder of the off season proceeds.
With the Ravens currently holding the 27th pick in round 1, they will likely miss out on the top tier prospects like Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle or LSU’s Ja’marr Chase. However, that doesn’t mean they will be left with scraps. For me, there are two intriguing names that should be available when the Ravens are on the clock; Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman and LSU’s Terrace Marshall.
Rashod Bateman is entering the draft after his junior season at Minnesota. In his last full college season, he amassed 60 receptions for 1219 yards and 11 TDs. He’s listed at 6’2” and 210 pounds. Not a pure speedster, although he did clock a sub 4.4 40 time at the EXOS combine in late February, Bateman is more known for his route running ability, toughness and ability to make contested catches. Despite not being the fastest wide receiver of this year’s class, his precision route running and smoothness out of breaks allows him to create separation. All of these qualities seem like a picture perfect fit in Baltimore, since the Ravens currently lack size and physicality on the outside.
Terrace Marshall is also leaving college after his junior season. Stepping into the role vacated by Justin Jefferson, Marshall went for 731 yards on 48 receptions in 7 games. In his career at LSU, Marshall had touchdowns on 21.6% of his catches; including double digit TDs in his last 2 season. He’s listed at 6’3”, 200 pounds, which means he will likely need to bulk up a bit and fill out his frame; especially to help him beat tighter press-man coverage at the next level. Marshall isn’t especially quick off the LOS but once he gets going, he can really burn for his size. He can play in the slot or on the outside and can make catches in traffic. However, he has had some nagging injuries and some issues with drops crept in last season (7 drops on 55 catchable targets). The drops seem to be more like a blip than a trend.
When comparing Bateman and Marshall, there are similarities in size, speed and overall production. Between the two however, Bateman definitely seems to be the more polished, NFL ready player. Marshall has some consistency issues to iron out with his hands and/or concentration, as well as showing that he can stay on the field. No NFL draft pick is a sure bet but if I had to bet on one of these two receivers, I would put my money on Rashod Bateman. Not to take anything away from Marshall, who could definitely excel at the NFL level but anytime you see a wide receiver have problems with drops, it’s a big red flag for me.
Rashod Bateman seems tailor made for the Baltimore Ravens, who need a go to guy for Lamar Jackson. A big, physical wide receiver, that also possesses good hands, along with being polished route runner, would plug in perfectly opposite speedster Hollywood Brown. Should the Ravens stand pat at 27 and are still in the market for wide receiver, Bateman should be their guy.
I am incredibly nervous about potentially going wide receiver in the 1st round. Of course, the draft is the best way to get relatively cheap production but rookie wide receivers don’t always fare so well out of the gate. Generally speaking, the speed of the game, the complexity of playbooks and seeing more man coverage can steepen the learning curve for rookies. For example, in 2020, of the top 30 wideouts by receptions, only 3 (Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Tee Higgins) were rookies. For a team like the Ravens, who have struggled mightily to identify and develop talent at the wide receiver position throughout their history, using their top overall pick on a receiver is quite the gamble. The safer play would be to go with an edge rusher but we’ll see how the board shakes out.
Jamie has been a Baltimore sports fan since he can remember. He grew up in Gwynn Oak and currently resides in Hampstead with his wife and 2 kids. He graduated from UMBC with a Bachelor of Arts in History. He’s currently employed at Verizon Communications in Hunt Valley.