Almost a month into the preseason, it’s still too early to officially push the “panic” button on the Ravens wide receiver corps, but questioning their output and lack of identity thus far is completely fair.
The Ravens took a gamble when they shipped Anquan Boldin and his $6 million base salary to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick. Given what Boldin displayed in the playoffs, the offense would have to replace a key figure in what allowed them to call themselves Super Bowl Champions. While the actual impact of Boldin’s departure remains to be seen, the money the team saved afforded them the opportunity to stack the defense in major areas of need with talented players like outside linebacker Elvis Dumvervil, inside linebacker Daryl Smith, safety Michael Huff and defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, all of whom combine for the same price tag as Boldin.
The loss of tight end Dennis Pitta (probably for the season) is the straw that broke the camel’s back for the panic to ensue with much of the fan base. Now, after receiving a $120 million vote of confidence, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will have to try to lead his team back to the Super Bowl without two of his favorite targets from a year ago.
Just how much of a safety blanket for Joe were Boldin and Pitta? Here’s a look of Flacco’s playoff stats and the percentage of them occupied by both Boldin and Pitta.
|Attempted Passes||55 of 126||43.6%|
|Completed Passes||33 of 73||49.3%|
|Yards||543 of 1,140||47.6%|
|Touchdown Passes||7 of 11||63.6%|
After standing on the sidelines at practice almost every day, I can tell you that Torrey Smith deserves more credit than he’s receiving. Smith has taken an extraordinary leap to become a top-tier NFL wide receiver. However, Smith will be double-covered in each and every game until another legitimate receiving threat emerges.
Jacoby Jones had a performance during the Super Bowl that in my opinion was worthy of receiving a trip to Disney World and the nice 2014 Corvette that Flacco’s wife is now driving. Jones danced himself into the spotlight and his notoriety skyrocketed because of his appearance on Dancing With The Stars. Unfortunately, Jones has failed to step up in the part of his life that actually produces a legitimate paycheck and keeps him notable – his football career. Yes, Jones is a playmaker and was single-handedly responsible for multiple wins last season, but so far he’s not shown he can occupy the WR spot opposite Smith.
Considering his impact on so many games last year, you couldn’t necessarily question general manager Ozzie Newsome retaining Jones at his $4.9 million value against the salary cap. However, that’s a lot of money for someone who has never been a proven commodity as a #2 receiver, and so far, he hasn’t shown the necessary evolution this training camp.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the lack of development of Tandon Doss. Trading Boldin was a vote of confidence in Doss to develop into the receiver the Ravens had hoped for when Flacco hand-picked Doss out of Indiana in 2011 and the team spent their fourth round draft pick on him. If Jones has become a dancer, Doss has become a magician because he’s mostly disappeared this training camp. Don’t agree? Why else would the Ravens have to try to revive the career of Brandon Stokley, who shouldn’t be expected to flourish like he did last season in Denver (not because of his quarterback, but because he doesn’t have receivers like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker flanked outside of him)?
During Sunday’s practice, it seemed if head coach John Harbaugh finally got the message over to Doss that he wasn’t appreciative of his efforts thus far. Stokley ran most of the reps during practice from the slot, while Doss appeared to be demoted, taking reps with some of the second-stringers, and rightfully so.
Young wideouts have emerged this preseason, including Aaron Mellette (7th round, Elon) and Marlon Brown (undrafted, Georgia). While both men saw time with the first-team offense on Sunday, they can’t be counted on thus far to replace either Jones or Doss. It’s encouraging to see good performances when called upon from Mellette and Brown, but they haven’t done anything against starting NFL cornerbacks thus far in the preseason. Right now the coaches have to view them as better performing second-stringers, until they get a shot during a preseason game against starting NFL talent. After practice on Sunday, Harbaugh spoke as if those players will get their shot this week.
While it may not be time to push the panic button for the wide receivers, the protective case has been flipped open and the finger is hovering over it. For as much progress as Smith has made, opposite him the Ravens have a $4.9 million “wide receiver” who is more impactful with his feet than his hands, and a huge question mark at the slot position. Thursday’s preseason game will reveal where this offense really is, and if things continue to unfold the way they have been, then there is major cause for concern, fellow purple faithful.
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