Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Ravens didn’t address the wide receiver position in the draft. Or in free agency (yet).
While I may fall into the marginal group of folks happy with the draft, and perfectly okay with the Ravens not nabbing any wideouts (didn’t reach early, won’t find a sure-shot Week 1 starter in the mid-late rounds), I still understand that Joe Flacco needs pass catchers beyond Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore and… let’s call it 6-8 games of a healthy Michael Campanaro.
So where do they go to add another body?
My theory is that the Ravens will add a former, big-bodied wide receiver back to the group.
And no, I don’t mean Anquan Boldin.
Once upon a time, let’s call it 2015, the Baltimore Ravens selected WR Darren Waller with their 6th round pick. Waller managed to hit the IR by mid-October of his rookie year, then entered the 2016 season facing a stiff uphill battle for a spot on the wide receiving corps. Steve Smith Sr, Wallace, Perriman, Moore, Kamar Aiken, Campanaro and Jeremy Butler all seemed to have an edge going into training camp, with fringe guys like Daniel Brown and rookie Keenan Reynolds provding stiff competition at the bottom of the bunch.
For Waller, the smart move was to switch to Tight End. Given his body size (6’6″, 250lbs) and speed, the positional switch seemed like it would be fairly seamless for the big-bodied 2nd year player out of Georgia Tech. Moreover, despite the the depth at Tight End on the Ravens roster, there were far more question marks than at Wide Receiver; Dennis Pitta (hip) was no sure shot, Crockett Gillmore was injured, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle had shown flashes but lacked consistency, and veteran Ben Watson wasn’t brought in to be a #1 guy.
Alas, Waller failed to step to the head of the pack. He started his season with a four-game suspension by the NFL for violating the substance abuse policy, and accrued a measly 10 receptions for 85 yards and two touchdowns during the remainder of the season.
Strange to say, but every one of those stats – receptions, yards and touchdowns – are all good for 2nd on the team, all behind Pitta.
And yet, despite the lack of talent behind him, Waller STILL struggled to separate from the pack.
What’s worse for Waller looking ahead to the 2017 season? Gillmore, Williams and Watson all look to return to the roster in full health, and Boyle isn’t currently looking at (another) suspension.
Suddenly, a thin Tight End group looks crowded once again. Yet across the locker room, sits a thin group of wide receivers, and Waller would be wise to revert to his old position.
So what is Waller bringing to the table if he switches back?
Again, going back to his sheer size (6’6″, 250 lbs) Waller towers above the big-bodied rookie Mike Williams (6’3″, 205 lbs) from Clemson, that many Ravens fans clamored for in the first round of the draft this year. While size isn’t everything, Waller also has knowledge of the Ravens offensive system over the past two seasons, and could provide another outside target for Flacco that he so badly needs.
Taking things a step further, with the offensive line status currently in question (or shambles, depending on your general outlook in life), the downfield speedsters in Perriman & Wallace are likely to be nullified, with Flacco unable to buy enough time for their routes to develop. Having Waller on the outside gives Joe a quick-hit target to pop off those 5-10 yard gains at will- a key factor in an offense that will look to focus on running the ball and hopefully keep the team in more 3rd-and-short scenarios.
But ultimately, Waller has to dig deep and truly want to take the next step.
Realistically, there’s a reason he was a late pick in the 2015 draft, and a reason he was never able to grab the bull by the horns with a shaky Tight End group last season. But if Waller truly commits himself to converting back to Wide Receiver, works on his routes and his hands, and pushes himself to the next level? He could potentially become a very integral part of the Ravens offense.