Since Ozzie Newsome expressed his desire to add a “complementary receiver” at the State of the Ravens presser, many have tried to figure out just what that meant. While the Ravens improved the talent level in 2016, the group still comes with its flaws. The cupboard is full on vertical threats but they haven’t shown the ability to consistently separate from man coverage. They also don’t have a proven guy that wins at the catch point. The question for the Ravens will be just how much capital they must spend to remedy these issues, and how much internal development they can manage.
Let’s take a look at the roster as it currently stands.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Unrestricted Free Agents
Steve Smith, Sr. (retired)
Feature talent if possible
Breshad Perriman flashed upside at all levels during his long-awaited debut season. He made amazing contested catches, showing agility and subtlety not usually found in receivers his size, while also proving that his trademark speed was still alive and well. The problem was none of it was consistently on display. He had his share of drops, and struggles with the smaller nuances of playing the position, but his talent is eye popping. He showed the traits to become the home-run hitter this offense lacks . Now with a year under his belt, how quickly can he clean up his fundamentals and concentration to allow his talent to step to the forefront?
Mike Wallace proved himself still productive in his age-30 season. He still has his trademark deep speed and that allows him to win on comebacks and outs because of the cushion defenders give him. If you clear space for him he can get horizontal and eventually gain yards after the catch, but he’s not a shifty guy and won’t win much in contested catch situations. I see the Ravens bringing him back unless they are able to acquire an upgrade that better complements the roster.
The infusion of wide receiver talent last year included the selection of Chris Moore. As the Ravens 5th receiver, he didn’t get many opportunities, but on a few touches and kick returns he showed his vertical speed. He’s got good length and upside as a guy who can win down the field. He’ll come into next season with a chance to nail down the kick returner job and fight for more snaps at receiver.
When the Ravens traded back into the end of the 2014 draft to select Michael Campanaro, they were thinking he could bring an element they didn’t have. He could be that shifty slot receiver that had become so popular around the league. Since then, “Camp” has been plagued by injuries and was even released last season before getting healthy and finding himself back on the roster late. A few handoffs demonstrated the open field ability the ravens envisioned when they drafted him. He’ll return with a leg up on the punt returner job and while the team figures to add someone who can play in the slot, Campanaro will compete there and try to get his career back on track.
Keenan Reynolds will essentially fight for the same role with Campanaro, and maybe the same roster spot. The former college QB has an intriguing blend of athleticism, vision, toughness and playmaking ability, but the learning curve will be steep. He was drafted with the hope he could develop into an asset in the return game, but he struggled to field the ball in practice as a rookie. If he doesn’t get those issues resolved nothing else will matter, but the talent is certainly there.
Kamar Aiken seems to be on his way out. He had a breakout 2015 season when the depth chart was decimated by injury, but in 2016 the receiver group had a lot more depth and better health and Kamar fell down the pecking order. Aiken is an interesting case because he shows traits the Ravens can use. He can line up all across the formation, he’s got good size, makes catches in traffic and he’s a pretty good athlete. The team should probably be aiming higher for a complement to what they already have, but if they strike out and Aiken doesn’t find the role he’s looking for elsewhere, maybe he’s brought back (though I doubt this is likely).
Free Agent options
Alshon Jeffery – The top wide receiver in this class will have no shortage of suitors. I’m sure the Ravens will inquire, and if they released Mike Wallace it would chip in $5.75 million to the cause. It’s probably unlikely because we know the Ravens don’t do bidding wars but the presence of Jeffery would be a serious power play. He’d be the receiving talent that has long eluded them and would give opposing defensive coordinators a player they’d really have to gameplan for.
Kendall Wright – The team could stand to upgrade the slot receiver position and Wright offers plenty of appeal here. Marred by injuries and issues with his previous coaching staffs, Wright hasn’t been able to build on his successful NFL start. His ability after the catch and down the field from the slot would be foreign to the Ravens and his need to rehab his stock should keep the price down. Could be a worthwhile gamble.
Anquan Boldin – Yeah, I went there. While this isn’t the same Q that helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl, he’d make sense as a big slot receiver and contested catch guy. He could be an effective bridge and mentor to the younger receivers on the roster, as well as the one(s) they may add in the draft.
Corey Davis, Western Michigan – For a team starving for separation at the position, Davis would bring an abundance of it. He’s a big, smooth separator with tremendous feet. That fluidity and ankle flexion makes him a terror in the open field after the catch. He can line up all over the formation and would be a great complement to Perriman going forward.
Projection: 1st Round
Mike Williams, Clemson – One of the staples of the Ravens’ last Super Bowl run was Boldin winning at the catch point, an area where Williams shines. Similar to a great rebounder in basketball, he boxes out defenders and has tremendous body control. For a team that has underwhelmed in the red zone, he’d be a huge asset on fades and back-shoulder throws.
Projection: 1st round
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky – While the Ravens already have plenty of speed at the position, Taylor would offer a playmaking component they lack. His quickness stands out, as he subtly avoids defenders to pick his way to extra yards in the open field. He also has surprising length that gives him a chance to play outside at the NFL level.
Projection: 3rd round