The Ravens need to upgrade a passing game that ranked last in the NFL last season.
There’s speculation the team will make a splash in free agency by signing a veteran playmaker. However, salary-cap restraints and an offense that will continue to revolve around the running game may preclude that type of deal.
A big-time wide receiver could cost the Ravens close to $20 million per season. That’s a hefty investment considering the team wants to reach new deals with quarterback Lamar Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews and offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
Much of that focus will be on Marquise Brown, a first-round pick in 2019 that is expected to take over as a true No. 1 wide receiver. At one point during the season, Brown expressed his displeasure with his role in the offense on social media, and that led to a three-game slump.
Brown finished the season strong and led the team with 769 yards receiving. He was targeted 100 times and caught 58 passes with eight touchdowns. Brown caught seven passes for 109 yards in a 20-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round of this year’s playoffs.
“I was really, really encouraged by Marquise over the last eight games of the season,” Ravens GM Eric DeCosta said. “He became a legitimate playmaker for us and a clutch guy – scored a bunch of touchdowns, made some big, big plays. In the playoff games, he was a force in both of those games.
“He showed some great skill, ability to run after the catch, he made some clutch catches. I thought that [Miles] Boykin made some plays; he made some clutch plays for us.”
The Ravens are also bullish on both Devin Duvernay and James Proche, a pair of draft picks in 2020 that spent most of the season on special teams. However, both players have the potential to make a bigger impact on the offense in 2021.
Duvernay was targeted 26 times and caught 20 passes for 201 yards. He has the speed and toughness to make a bigger impact next season. The Ravens also used him on sweeps and Duvernay managed 70 yards on just four carries.
Proche caught just one pass for 14 yards after a solid training camp, but flashed catching the ball during training camp and will get more opportunities in 2021.
“I think their best football is ahead of both of those guys,” DeCosta said about Duvernay and Proche. “We’re very happy with both those guys, as young receivers who came into a very difficult situation this year, with no OTAs, and essentially, no real training camp – so to speak – with games. We’re excited about both those guys – we really are.”
Ultimately, the Ravens will add a wide receiver or two either through free agency or the draft. Just don’t expect them to break the bank or lose their identity.
“Receivers come in all different sizes and shapes,” DeCosta said. “We’ve got the Draft; we’ve got free agency. I think one of the things, as you think about the passing game, is we throw the ball a lot less than a lot of other teams do. That’s by design; we’re a running football team.
“People like to look at yards per game as a good metric of a passing game, and I think we threw the ball probably 150-160 times less than any other team did this year in the NFL. We want to be precise, for sure. I think that we want to be more efficient.”