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Leading up to the start of training camp, 24×7 will preview the 2007 Baltimore Ravens position-by-position. Today we will analyze the wide receivers.
The steady improvement of this position began in 2005, with the signing of Derrick Mason, Baltimoreâ€™s first legitimate No.1 wideout since the days of Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander. A month later, the organization used its first-round pick to bring Mark Clayton into the fold. And last year, Oregon product Demetrius Williams fell into the teamâ€™s lap in the fourth-round, after many pundits pegged him as a second-round pick.
This trio appears poised to be the centerpiece of a more exciting passing attack in Baltimore. Gone are the preambles of â€œifsâ€ and â€œbutsâ€ when analyzing the Ravens receivers. Instead, the only question that needs to be answered is, â€œjust how good can this group be?â€
Starter(s): Masonâ€™s numbers took a steady nose-dive following an impressive â€˜05 debut with the team. In 15 starts, Mason averaged 11.0 yards per catch last season, with just seven of those receptions going for 20 yards or more.
Clearly, part of the reason for Masonâ€™s decline stemmed from the expansion of Clayton and Williamsâ€™ roles in the offense. While Mason is not happy about this shift in offensive philosophy, it is a sign of things to come in the future.
Still, the wily veteran is an integral part of the offensive engine. There are few wideouts in the league that do a better job of finding the sticks on third-down. In addition, Masonâ€™s razor sharp route running, and impressive coverage reading skills enable him to get open consistently in the intermediate area.
The torch seems to have been passed from Mason to Clayton. As the season progressed, Steve McNair depended more on Clayton to create explosive plays. Clayton responded by averaging 19.2 yards per catch in the final four games of the season.
While the former Sooner does not possess blazing speed, he has the suddenness and quickness coming in and out of his breaks to gain separation from defenders. Clayton is especially adept at running double moves, because he sells the initial fake so well.
While Clayton and Mason lack the size and speed to be consistent vertical threats, Williams is more adept in that role. In fact, nine of his 22 receptions covered 20 yards or more in â€˜06. The second-year wide receiver lacks strength, but he is long, athletic and able to contort his body to snatch the ball no matter where it is placed.
Williams should log more playing time next season, as the coaches will run a variation of three-wide sets to showcase his big-play ability.
Backups: Traditionally, the fourth wideoutâ€™s role is virtually non-existent in Baltimoreâ€™s offense. However, things may change.
The coaches will have to consider using rookie Yamon Figurs in some capacity, especially in obvious passing situations. While Figurs lacks polish and sound route running technique, he has blazing speed, and is electric in the open field. If the ball is in Figuresâ€™ hands, there is always a chance of him scoring from any point on the field.
Clarence Moore and Devard Darling will duke it out for the chance to grab the remaining spot on the depth chart. Of the two, Darling seems to have the inside track, given his ability to play on special teams.