OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens’ elusive quest for a dynamic wide receiver through the NFL draft hasn’t led them to many distinguished downfield targets.
Arguably the top wide receiver they’ve ever drafted is Brandon Stokley, and that was over a decade ago. None of the 16 wide receivers selected in franchise history has gone to a Pro Bowl or generated a 1,000-yard season for the Ravens.
Regardless of whether it was first-rounders Travis Taylor and Mark Clayton, second-rounder Patrick Johnson, third-rounders Devard Darling and Yamon Figurs, fourth-round picks Stokley, Ron Johnson, Demetrius Williams and Marcus Smith or a multitude of later-round long shots, nothing ever clicked ideally.
Selecting receivers is essentially the only hole in the Ravens’ tradition of draft success.
Rarely inclined to ever tip his hand, general manager Ozzie Newsome made it clear that the Ravens are likely to draft a wide receiver later this week at some point during the draft.
"We’re looking to add to our receiving corps, yes we are," Newsome said. "We’ve done a good job of stacking the board with some guys that have some size, some guys that have some unique quickness about them.
"Some guys have just got flat-out speed. It’s a very good board for receivers this year, and I do foresee, unless something changes, of those nine picks we have, probably one of them will be a receiver."
Although the Ravens have accomplished veteran wide receivers in Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason, neither is a deep threat and the team isn’t expected to bring back free agents T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth. The Ravens could promote kick returner David Reed to the third receiver spot, but would like to bolster the position overall.
Not expected to draft a wide receiver like University of Maryland speedster Torrey Smith in the first round with the 26th overall pick, the Ravens are expected to take advantage of a deep pool of wideouts.
That includes Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, Boise State wide receiver Titus Young and Hawaii wide receiver Greg Salas, who all drew a lot of attention from the Ravens at the Senior Bowl.
The Ravens worked out versatile Kentucky all-purpose wide receiver Randall Cobb on Thursday. Cobb has also visited the New York Jets.
Cobb is a 5-10, 191-pounder who has played wide receiver, running back, returned kicks and can run the Wildcat offense. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.
Last season, Cobb caught 84 passes for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns. He rushed for 424 yards and five touchdowns and combined for 955 yards returning punts and kickoffs.
He broke the Southeastern Conference record with 2,396 all-purpose yards last season. He threw three touchdowns in the Wildcat.
Plus, the following receivers have visited the Ravens: Smith, All-Big East Conference selection Jonathan Baldwin (Pitt, Greg Little (North Carolina), Edmond Gates (Abilene Christian) and Cecil Shorts (Mount Union).
"You want guys that can make plays, clutch plays," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "You want a guy who when it’s third-and-seven, he’s open and he catches it. And those guys do it in all different shapes and sizes.
"There’s not a physical quality other than speed is speed. It’s hard to cover speed. Mike Wallace is a great example. You’ve got to pay attention to that."
Hankerson visited the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Miami Dolphins.
The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder caught 72 passes for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, breaking Michael Irvin’s single-season record for touchdown catches.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, bench pressing 225 pounds 14 times. He registered a 36-inch vertical leap and a 9-9 broad jump.
Hankerson overcame some dropped passes early in his career after working with former Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mark Duper. In high school, Hankerson’s position coach was former NFL wide receiver Cris Carter.
"He’s a good football player," Hortiz said. "Miami players tend to be good. He’s really big with good hands, good route runner. He ran better than people thought he would at the combine."
The All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection ranks third all-time with 22 touchdowns behind Irvin and Lamar Thomas, finishing with 134 career receptions for 2,160 yards. He was named the Hurricanes’ Most Valuable Player last season.
"Hankerson tends to fit what the Ravens want," said Sporting News draft analyst Russ Lande, a former scout with the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams. "They’ve got guys like Mason, but Hankerson is more like Boldin. He’s smooth and athletic.
"He’s not super explosive, but he’s a very athletic kid who runs good routes and has improved hands. He’s got a chance to be a very good player. I wouldn’t be shocked if he went in the first round."
They don’t get much bigger than Baldwin, an imposing 6-foot-4, 228-pounder with 4.43 speed, a 10-9 broad jump and a 42-inch vertical leap with the strength to bench press 225 pounds 20 times.
"I’ve got a great work ethic, I’m coming in at 5:30 in the morning to watch film and work on routes and do all those extra things," Baldwin told the Times. "I’ll bring that competitive nature, all the necessities to be great. I’ll be learning new things and soak everything up from the older guys.
"In a jump ball situation, I automatically have the advantage. It definitely helps a lot. I can jump, too. It helps to have a big body to shield off smaller defenders."
However, Baldwin has displayed inconsistent effort and catching technique.
"Teams are trying to figure this kid out," Lande said. "When he competes hard, he’s a really good football player. He’s a big kid who can catch the heck out of the ball when he uses his hand with outstanding catches on off-target stuff. He just doesn’t consistently compete. He’s not a real aggressive blocker. He doesn’t always run hard after the catch.
"At times, you don’t see that fire and passion. That concerns teams. As a big receiver, you have to be very competitive unless you have rare physical tools. He can go up and get it, but you want to see that competitiveness."
Troy wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan is another hot name in scouting circles.
Jerrigan is extremely fast and caught 71 passes for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns last season, but is undersized and teams are worried about his attitude following a suspension earlier in his career.
Recruited as a wide receiver, Little also played some running back and quarterback in Chapel Hill. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder was suspended for the entire season due to NCAA violations involving his dealings with an agent.
As a junior, he caught 62 passes for 724 yards and five touchdowns.
"This kid fits the West Coast offense very well," Lande said. "He’s got the size and runs fairly well. He’s a bit raw, but overall he’s got a lot of upside."
Shorts is a small-school sleeper from the same school as Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon. He had nine private workouts and visited the Ravens and Cowboys.
Shorts ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 and 4.41 seconds at his Pro Day workout on a wet artificial turf.
Last season, he caught 63 passes for 1,106 yards and 17 touchdowns, running for one score, returning two punts for touchdowns and another kickoff return for a score after missing the first three games with an ankle injury.
"Good football player, people at the school say he’s better than Garcon was," Lande said. "He runs good routes and is very athletic with good hands. He’s a slot receiver. There’s a lot of things to like about him. He’ll be there in the fourth round. He’s a very good player, but not a rare guy. Small school players slide a round or two."
As a sophomore, he caught 77 passes for 1,485 yards and 23 touchdowns to earn All-American honors. He also quarterbacked his team due to an injury in the Division III playoffs and rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Shorts is also a track and field All-American selection.
" I think Cecil Shorts has a chance to make a team and down the road be a real good football player," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. " You don’t hardly ever talk about Division III players at that level, but he’s going to be a fourth or fifth round pick."
Gates will be a 25-year-old rookie, but has 4.37 speed.
In addition to the Ravens, the 6-foot-1, 194-pounder visited the Broncos, New York Jets, Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings.
Gates is from the same school that produced Chicago Bears speedy wide receiver Johnny Knox.
As a senior, Gates caught 66 passes for 1,182 yards and 13 touchdowns and was named All-American and All-Lone Star Conference.
Fort Valley State wide receiver and track star Ricardo Lockette is another player the Ravens have scouted.
Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers found a gem in the sixth round with Central Michigan standout Antonio Brown. He got behind Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb in the Steelers’ AFC divisional playoff victory.
"I think if you look at the contributions of rookie wide-outs throughout the past couple years, there are guys in the fifth round," Hortiz said. "Antonio Brown last year made a big contribution for Pittsburgh against us. There are lesser guys, in terms of where they’re drafted, that can make an impact.