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The 14: Considering a WR with the Pick

The 14 Burks London
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Welcome back to The 14, a draft series exploring every possible option for the Baltimore Ravens’ 14th overall pick. This week, I’ll be diving into the possibility of selecting a wide receiver at 14, with a focus on two prospects: USC’s Drake London and Arkansas’s Treylon Burks.

Previous chapters:

Introducing….The 14

The 14: Ranking the Ravens’ Early First-Round Targets

The 14: Missed the Cut…with Room to Rise

The Case for Adding a Wide Receiver

The prospect of the Ravens drafting a receiver with the 14th pick has intrigued me ever since James Ogden’s piece on Burks back in February, and remains the idea that intrigues me the most.

It sounds a little out there, at first. For the first time in the Lamar Jackson era, wide receiver is not a desperate need in Baltimore, with offensive tackle, edge, interior defensive line, center and cornerback all of higher priority. Through the brute force of six picks in the last three drafts, including two in the first round, the Ravens have finally built a strong wide receiver room with quality depth. So why would they spend a first-round pick – especially a rare top-15 selection – on a receiver for the third time in the last four years?

Depending on how the first 13 picks fall, it might be their best option. Baltimore has to be prepared for every eventuality, and it’s possible, if not likely, that all of their preferred options are off the board by the time they’re on the clock. Trading up or down is a possibility, but it takes two to tango and the Ravens shouldn’t give up the 14th pick for unfair compensation. They might be forced to ‘stick-and-pick,’ in which case they should take the best player available rather than reaching for a lesser talent at a position of need. That may very well be a wide receiver, and that might actually be a smart long-term strategy for one simple reason: the almighty dollar.

All speculation about Jackson’s contract aside, his salary cap hit is going to get higher in the next few years, whether he signs an extension or plays on the franchise tag. With so much of the cap devoted to Jackson, Ronnie Stanley and Mark Andrews, the Ravens will need to find cheap offensive talent in future seasons in order to maintain a competitive defense. Their current receiver corps will only cost $12.5 million in 2022, but that will double in 2023 with Hollywood Brown’s fifth-year option, which is projected to cost $13.4 million on its own, per OverTheCap. Eric DeCosta has repeatedly said that the Ravens will pick up the option, but Brown could price himself out of Baltimore in 2024 with the market for top receiving talent exploding this offseason.

An average annual value of $20 million will likely be the floor for Brown. His career averages of 4.2 receptions and 51 yards per game match that of Christian Kirk, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this March. For further comparison, Brown has 21 touchdowns in just three seasons and hit the thousand-yard mark in his third campaign, while Kirk has just 17 touchdowns in his four seasons and has yet to reach 1,000 yards in a single season.

If Brown builds on a strong 2021, something that’s definitely possible with his chemistry with Jackson, his value could skyrocket beyond what the Ravens are willing to offer. Drafting a wide receiver this year who can take over as a full-time starter in 2023 would even give Baltimore the flexibility to trade Hollywood on his fifth-year option to a team that wants to sign him to a long-term deal. The Ravens would then have Rashod Bateman and the 2022 pick on rookie deals through 2025, seasons that will likely include massive cap hits for Lamar Jackson.

But drafting a wide receiver with the 14th pick would only make sense for the Ravens if it’s a player that can take their offense to the next level by creating a new role that didn’t exist before.

That brings me to Drake London and Treylon Burks, the two players who could fit that bill at 14.

Drake London: Rising Above the Rest

I honestly can’t introduce London any better than Pro Football Focus, who ranked London as their top receiver and 11th overall prospect in the 2022 draft:

It’s a shame London’s season ended with a broken ankle after only eight games because he was on an unmatched statistical tear, racking up 88 catches for 1,084 yards and seven scores over that span. He’s a massive 6-foot-5, 210-pounder who still led college football with 19 contested catches.

London’s 67.9% contested catch rate and 3.52 yards per route run are among the best in the 2022 draft class, and he still racked up 18 plays of 20 or more yards and forced 22 missed tackles despite playing in only eight games in 2021.

Those stats are eye-popping on their own, but it’s how London accumulated those gaudy numbers that excites me more. His background as a basketball power forward shows up at the catch point, where London combines his massive frame with elite body control and ball tracking to regularly beat opposing cornerbacks in tight coverage. His ability to adjust mid-air and high point jump balls over multiple defenders with ease makes him an absolute beast on third downs and in the red zone. London is so good at 50/50 balls that it’s almost surprising when he doesn’t come down with every single one in his airspace.

Ravens Draft Central: Drake London Evaluation

While Mark Andrews did finish fourth in the NFL with 18 contested catches in 2021, per PFF, the Ravens still struggled on third down and in the red zone. London could address that from Day 1 as a rookie, especially as he draws favorable matchups with Baltimore’s more proven weapons attracting more attention. He doesn’t have breakaway top-gear speed, but the Ravens already have plenty of that on their roster, so they can instead focus on adding a chain-mover and red zone threat in London.

But the USC standout wouldn’t merit this kind of consideration if he was just a one-trick pony who could only win with his contested catch ability in the pros. Instead, London brings an assortment of NFL-ready skills, starting with nuanced and cerebral route running that allows him to win on more than just downfield contested catches. London knows that cornerbacks must respect his deep threat ability, so he’s refined his footwork on deep outs and comebacks for maximum separation. He’s agile enough to shake his man on a variety of routes when lined up out wide or in the slot, additional versatility that is always welcome in Baltimore. London also knows how to exploit a variety of coverages; he can quickly stop his routes against off-man coverage, and he also has an excellent feel for finding and sitting in the soft spots of opposing zone coverages. He can break the press with his size, length and strength, especially on outside releases. Sometimes, it looks like he’s just too big and strong for cornerbacks to latch on, with London gliding by as they bounce off his massive frame.

London’s agility and football I.Q. show up after the catch as well, when he regularly jukes opposing defenders to the turf and demonstrates an excellent balance of finding open running lanes while still gaining yards and getting upfield. He typically refuses to go down after the catch, using his size to add even more yardage until multiple defenders are able to take his legs out or force him out of bounds. This is another area in which the Ravens are lacking; they gained just 4.3 yards after the catch per completion in 2021, the second-lowest mark in the league.

There’s a lot more to love about London – for example, his competitiveness and size will make him an excellent run blocker – but he’s not a perfect wideout either. As mentioned, he doesn’t have elite speed and the broken ankle that ended his 2021 season will need to check out medically to support his massive frame. He does have some drops on his tape, but I’m confident in his huge hands and overall catching ability to limit those issues in the NFL.

Treylon Burks: The Next Deebo Samuel?

Arkansas standout Treylon Burks brings a unique physical profile of his own, standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 225 pounds with elite strength and movement skills. Like London, he brings strong ball skills and YAC ability, but his fit in Baltimore would be completely different.

Burks was the focal point of the Razorbacks’ offense in 2021, racking up 1,104 yards on 66 receptions and adding 14 carries for 112 yards on the ground with 12 total touchdowns. Arkansas deployed his elite size and athleticism in a variety of ways with most of his snaps coming out of the slot. He averaged 9.3 yards after catch per reception and 3.57 yards per route run in 2021, with just three drops and 22 plays of over 20 yards. He would bring a tantalizing skillset to Baltimore with the potential to play multiple roles at a high level.

Ravens Draft Central: Treylon Burks

That explosiveness and versatility primarily comes from Burks’ insane acceleration and top speed for his size, making him an absolute beast with the ball in his hands. He’s a constant home run threat on sweeps, screens and slants with breakaway speed and a physical running style that makes him very difficult to catch and bring down in the open field. Burks is excellent at positioning his lower body to shoot out of a cannon for maximum acceleration after the catch, particularly on screens, allowing him to run by or over defenders before they’re ready for him.

Burks has the potential to be a contested catch savant in the NFL, as he already has a huge catch radius and the strength to out-muscle most defensive backs at the catch point. His stats aren’t exemplary, with a middling 43.8% contested catch rate and only seven contested catches in 2021, per PFF, but that’s partially due to his lack of snaps out wide. With his physicality and some of the best hands in the class, Burks can win at the catch point in the NFL, which will be especially valuable on third down and in the red zone. But his speed will also unleash him as a vertical threat, where his contested catch ability will show up downfield as well.

Burks’ varied deployment at Arkansas shows that he has an excellent grasp of complex playbooks from multiple positions. His high football I.Q. features a great feel for spacing, including soft spots in zone coverage and running lanes as a ballcarrier.

The largest hole in Burks’ game is his ability to separate from defenders. His natural speed and elusiveness made him an effective route-runner in college, but he lacks nuance and precision at the top of his routes to get separation from NFL-caliber cornerbacks. His lack of experience against press coverage – just 39 snaps in 2021 – will be a question mark when he jumps to the pros as well, but there’s no reason to think that Burks can’t improve these aspects of his game. The top-shelf footwork, agility and body control he demonstrates at the catch point and after the catch can translate to his route-running before the catch with the proper coaching, and he’s already demonstrated a solid awareness for recognizing and exploiting opposing coverages.

The same will go for his ability to beat the press, but both will take time and experience to develop.

The Verdict

The Ravens need to hit, and hit big, with their choice for the 14th overall pick on a player that can have an instant impact and elite long-term potential in the NFL. That means whoever they choose has to be a high-level contributor in the passing game, either on offense or defense. If the top tier of offensive tackles, cornerbacks and edge rushers are all gone at 14, the Ravens may need to pivot to the best wide receiver available as the next best impact addition to their passing game.

While I certainly think the Ravens should consider taking a wide receiver with the 14th overall pick, I don’t think Burks makes sense as their target. He’s a surefire first-round wide receiver who could be a good fit in Baltimore with his aggressive, physical play style. He could be a versatile, potentially revolutionary addition to the already-potent Ravens offense; as James Ogden explains, Burks can:

  • Align at the X position and go up and get a contested catch in a 1-on-1 situation or snag a back-shoulder throw with elite body positioning and hands.
  • Work out of the slot, catch a bubble screen and pick up 8 yards of YAC using strength and physicality to break tackles, when the offense faces a Cover 0 blitz and needs 7 yards for the 1st.
  • Have the experience to line up in the backfield in two-back sets, flanking Jackson with JK Dobbins, with the speed to match Dobbins and act as a decoy, blocker, runner or receiver.

 

I highly recommend reading James’ article to understand the full potential of Burks in the Ravens’ offense, but you get the idea. The Deebo Samuel comparisons aren’t that far off, and Burks legitimately projects as a player who can fill a similar ‘wide back’ role in the NFL. But teams can’t just draft Burks and expect him to become Samuel as a rookie. They’ll need to design parts of their playbook around getting the ball in his hands in order to maximize his physical gifts from Day 1, and I’m not sure that type of player is the best option for Baltimore with the 14th pick.

The Ravens would have to manufacture touches for Burks in an offense that’s at its best when the ball is in Lamar Jackson’s hands, and Greg Roman is no Kyle Shanahan.

Jackson needs targets who can get open in high-leverage situations, and Burks isn’t that player at this point in his career. He can certainly develop as a route-runner, especially with Baltimore’s top-notch wide receiver coaches and the already-polished Rashod Bateman to learn from, but Burks may not be able to deliver the early impact the Ravens need from their first-rounder. Even his contested catch ability is somewhat unproven, calling into question his potential to contribute at a high level early in his career in Baltimore. I’d still be interested in adding Burks, depending on how the board falls. He could be a target if the Ravens trade back from 14 or trade up from 45.

I do think, however, that Drake London is that guy for the Ravens. He plays like a Raven with his aggressiveness at the catch point and refusal to be tackled after the catch. His skyscraper physicality and all-around game profiles similarly to Mike Evans, who has eclipsed 1,000 yards in all eight of his NFL seasons. That kind of early and long-term impact is exactly what Baltimore should be looking for with the 14th pick.

London has everything but elite speed, and there’s already plenty of that to go around in Baltimore. The Ravens will be able to call on London early in his career, especially when they need to move the chains or reach the end zone. Like any draft pick, he’ll need to refine and perfect his skills in the NFL, but he’s well-equipped to do so, especially with a strong surrounding cast in Baltimore.

There isn’t an NFL defense that can cover a Ravens offense with London, Bateman, Brown and Andrews, not to mention Jackson, Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins out of the backfield. The depth and breadth of athleticism and skillsets in that group would be something to behold on a football field.

While the Ravens do have plenty of promising depth at wide receiver, an injury to Bateman or Brown would thrust Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace into major roles. While I like the potential of all three players, the idea of one of them starting in a playoff game doesn’t give me much confidence.

If the first 13 picks go in the way I expect, I would rather take London, my personal WR1, over Andrew Booth or Trent McDuffie and continue to stack elite talent on rookie contracts around Jackson as his cap hits start to explode.

For all of those reasons, I’d like to give London the last spot in The 14, slotting him in as my 12th overall prospect for the Ravens, behind Jordan Davis and ahead of Andrew Booth and Trent McDuffie.

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