There’s an old saying that goes, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I’d like to add a third item to that list of certainties; “This off season, the Baltimore Ravens need to improve at wide receiver.”
It’s quite a remarkable anomaly that despite having arguably the best front office in football, which has drafted and developed a slew of Pro Bowlers, All Pros and 3 Hall of Famers so far in their 25 year history, Baltimore has had such little success when it comes to drafting and developing wide receivers.
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Taking a look back at the organization’s history of drafting wide receivers, it’s a group of flawed players, projects, also rans, 1st round busts and a few bright spots sprinkled in. The list of Raven’s draft picks at wide receiver engenders reactions of, “who?” and “I don’t even remember that guy”, etc.
Red indicates no significant stats after Baltimore.
Yellow indicates playing beyond rookie deal, minimal impact.
Green indicates playing beyond rookie deal, serviceable or better.
No color indicates “to be determined.”
Altogether, Baltimore has selected 30 wide receivers in their 25 year franchise history. Almost half of those players (14) did not play beyond their rookie deal or, if they did, it was essentially a cup of coffee somewhere else.
The next group of 8 receivers, did play beyond their rookie deals elsewhere, with the exception of Chris Moore, who’s been a Raven for his whole career, almost exclusively a special teams player. Of that group, 3 of the picks (Taylor, Clayton, Perriman) were 1st rounders that can be placed in the bust category. Albeit, Breshad Perriman is still in the league but more than likely, he will never be more than a 3rd /4th WR type.
The subsequent grouping of receivers consists of guys that had or are having solid NFL careers. Jermaine Lewis holds the distinction of being the only wide receiver drafted by the Ravens to receive Pro Bowl honors while still with the organization. Albeit, he gets an asterisk because his 2 Pro Bowl selections came as a kick returner.
Brandon Stokley carved out a solid career as a Wes Welker/Julian Edelman type before those guys became a thing. Along the way, Stokley enjoyed a 1,000 yard season in Indianapolis with Peyton Manning and picked up 3 Super Bowl rings before calling it quits at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Torrey Smith had some memorable moments during his 4 year tenure in Baltimore. Some of his highlights include his 3 touchdown game early in the 2011 season vs the Rams, a touchdown grab at Heinz Field that capped off a game winning, 92 yard drive, shining brightly on a Sunday night in September of 2012 vs the Patriots while mourning the loss of his younger brother in a motorcycle accident, beating Champ Bailey for 2 scores in the “Mile High Miracle” game during the 2012 Super Bowl run and a 1,128 yard season in 2013. His efforts in Baltimore yielded him a 5 year, $40 million deal with San Francisco. After 2 unremarkable seasons in San Francisco, Smith landed in Philly and picked up his 2nd Super Bowl ring.
Last of this group of draft picks at wide receiver that could be deemed successful is no longer even a wide receiver. Darren Waller’s story is well known to NFL fans. His time in Baltimore was marred by personal problems, depression, addiction, etc. After a change of positions, a year-long suspension and a change of scenery, Waller got a new lease on life and has become an impact player. He’s logged back to back 1,000+ yard season and earned Pro Bowl honors as a tight end for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Now under the guidance of Eric DeCosta, the Ravens have selected 4 wide receivers in the last 2 drafts. Marquise Brown has flashed big play ability and speed in his 2 seasons but has had stretches of inconsistency, as well. Meanwhile, fans are waiting for more significant contributions from the likes of Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche. Hopefully, when their stories are written, they will be more than footnotes.
Given the general lack of success at acquiring a wide receiver through the draft, the free agent market has been where the Ravens have found most of their production at that spot. Some of the highlights of this year’s group of unrestricted free agent receivers are Allen Robinson, Corey Davis, TY Hilton, Will Fuller, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marvin Jones. As nice as it would be to see any of the afore mentioned in purple, the top of the free agent class is likely outside of Baltimore’s price range. Save for the Derrick Mason signing in the 2005 off-season and the Anquan Boldin trade prior to 2010, Baltimore has gravitated towards the 2nd tier free agents or slightly past their prime veterans when bringing in receivers.
When looking at the free agent class as a whole, the 2 names I find intriguing are Kenny Golladay and AJ Green. Green fits the Ravens modus operandi for wide receiver acquisitions; accomplished veteran but in the mid-October of his career. He also fills a need for Baltimore’s receiving corps; big bodied (6’4”, 210), good hands and plays physical. Kenny Golladay is cut from a similar cloth as Green; both physically (6’4”, 214) and in style of play. He has good hands, plays big and was the best in the league at contested catches in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus. Unfortunately for Golladay, 2020 was not the walk year he hoped for. He saw limited action this past season, as a result of an early hamstring injury and then a hip injury, playing in only 5 games.
Even though Baltimore has shied away from the UFA market over the years, so as to maximize the yield of compensatory picks, this off season may be the time to eschew that philosophy. In what may be an “all in” type of year in 2021, the Ravens should take a long look at Kenny Golladay. With the salary cap constricting for the upcoming season and coming off an injury plagued year, Golladay will likely come with a smaller price tag and perhaps on a 1 year, prove it, type of contract. If I were the Ravens, I would be more than willing to take a hit in the compensatory pick formula if it means bringing in Kenny Golladay. His skill set and physicality is precisely what the organization needs to balance out its offense and provide a compliment to the speed and shiftiness of Hollywood Brown.
There’s a long off-season ahead with many rumors, free agency, the draft, cap cuts and various other twists and turns. Through all of that, the song remains the same, the Baltimore Ravens need to improve at wide receiver.
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.