The Baltimore Ravens are more invested in their passing game than you might think. In fact, the Ravens have invested more in the wide receiver position than is generally perceived. While you can’t call Baltimore the capital of wide receiver talent in the NFL, the Ravens aren’t exactly singing the wideout blues.
When the Ravens traded away Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals, it made fans overly concerned about the talent level in the receivers department. Brown was coming off a 91-reception season where he totaled over 1,000 yards. There’s no getting around the fact that the Ravens sent away Lamar Jackson’s favorite target not named Mark Andrews.
The Ravens drafted Brown in the first round of the 2019 season. Counting Brown, the Ravens have selected six wide receivers in the NFL Draft since Eric DeCosta assumed the title of General Manager. Rashod Bateman was picked 27th overall in 2021 and is expected to become the new number one receiver.
The Ravens haven’t ignored the wide receiver position. While Miles Boykin (a third-round choice in 2019) didn’t pan out, you can’t say the Ravens aren’t taking swings at the position through the draft. The Ravens now have a young and unproven receiver corps to work with. Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, and Tylan Wallace all have traits to be excited about.
This is what fans of the Ravens have been asking for, they just don’t know it. The Ravens’ best receivers have usually come from veteran players on their second or third stop in the NFL. This is an organization that has failed more often than not at taking receivers and developing homegrown talent that pays dividends for the future. The Ravens may not have brand-name talent at wide receiver, but it’s unfair to say their cupboard is bare and empty.
The wide receiver market isn’t a fun place to play right now. Thanks to outlandish contracts like the one Christian Kirk got from the Jacksonville Jaguars, paying for weapons in the passing game means overpaying. The Ravens utilize a run-heavy offense that loves tight ends. Assuming the 2019 model is the blueprint for this team, it’s a clever idea to have a receiving group that is built almost entirely out of recent draft picks.
Last year the Ravens went to the bargain bin to get Sammy Watkins. In hindsight, they may have been better off without a player past his prime taking snaps and chances from younger talent. Adding a receiver just to add a receiver isn’t going to do this offense any good. If Baltimore can somehow trade for Deebo Samuel, it’s a different conversation. This is because Samuel would boost any offense in the league. If the Ravens are not in play for a seismic-sized change for the position group, they must stay out of the bargain bin and trust what they have.
That’s not Greg Roman costing the Ravens a chance to have a big-name receiver come to Baltimore. That’s not the system taking it out on the wide receiver talent. If the Ravens go into the season without a substantial move for a receiver, it is simply an example of prioritization by DeCosta, John Harbaugh, and his coaching staff.
The scary part about all of this is that it forces us to do a lot of projection. It’s projecting Bateman stepping up to be a productive top target. It’s projecting that the Ravens can begin to use Duvernay as the player that stretches the defense down the field. Ultimately, the Ravens are projecting that Wallace was indeed a day three steal in the 2021 NFL Draft, and Proche can be a decent role player.
The argument isn’t that this group is proven, rather it’s that this group has the chance to step up collectively.
It’s important to remember that the tight ends factor heavily into the passing game. In Jackson’s MVP season he completed at least 30 passes to each of his three tight ends. Andrews is coming off a monster season where he showed he is an elite weapon for the offense. For now, Nick Boyle is still in Baltimore. The Ravens drafted Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely last month. Tight ends will play a key role in the passing game, which reduces the amount of output the team needs from their wide receivers.
Likely is a tight end from Coastal Carolina that is essentially a 6’4” slot receiver. He was brought in to create mismatches in the passing game. Kolar is a more traditional tight end, who can fill the Hayden Hurst mold well. Marquise Brown’s production must be replaced, but don’t forget that these tight ends can eat up some of those receptions.
The Ravens may be a run-first team, yet their commitment to the passing game shouldn’t be undervalued. Draft picks are worth more than anything to this franchise. Remember, we’re talking about a front office that makes decisions specifically to help the compensatory pick formula. Six draft picks in DeCosta’s four drafts as the GM counts as a significant push to improve the wide receiver position.
If Tyler Linderbaum ends up being a long-term center who goes to Pro Bowls, the Ravens will be the winners of the trade with the Cardinals. It’s important to remember that Brown was a play-maker but it’s not like the Ravens sent away a player like Stefon Diggs or Cooper Kupp. Brown had drop issues and he often ran out of bounds regardless of the down and distance, to avoid hits playing at his size.
The one thing the Ravens’ weapons all have in common now, is toughness and dependability. At Texas and SMU respectively, Duvernay and Proche had some of the surest hands in college football history. Wallace had a habit as an Oklahoma State Cowboy of playing bigger than his body. Bateman has all the traits and he was very impressive in his rookie season.
The Ravens have the rest of the NFL right where they want them. The Ravens get to bring back a dominant run game with the return of Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins. The offensive line took a major stride from a personnel perspective. On top of that, people are lining up to doubt Jackson and the Ravens’ passing game again.
Jackson proves fans and pundits wrong on a regular basis, and this passing attack may have more credibility than it’s being given.