Participating in a conversation with the #RavensFlock about the team’s passing offense leads to three consensus opinions: A lack of progress throwing the ball this season should lead to the immediate destruction of the (Greg) Roman Empire; Mark Andrews is an unstoppable force of nature in the middle of the field; and, Rashod Bateman is a clear-cut breakout star in the making as he assumes a leading role.
While there’s probably some merit to those first two, it’s certainly fair to consider the final one a leap of faith — built on consideration of Bateman’s skill set and observing some of what he was able to put on tape in a strange 2021 season for the good guys. Sure, we can believe it can happen. But until he goes out and does it on a consistent basis, well, let’s go ahead and put a pin in that one for now.
Whether or not it works out in the end, Bateman appears to be the de facto top dog amongst the receiving unit entering training camp. And if there’s no addition of a veteran to the corps before the season starts, it’s just Andrews and Bateman and… Devin Duvernay? James Proche? An assortment of flavors from the tight-end room?
How about Tylan Wallace?
Though he doesn’t have that prototypical size or blazing speed you’d like to see in an outside receiver, make no mistake about it — Wallace is a guy who thrives on the perimeter. He is a good route-runner who thrived on contested catches in college, and he has sure hands. The Ravens don’t need Wallace to be a 100-catch guy. In fact, in a perfect world, the running game stays healthy and thrives, and Bateman and Andrews are gobbling up targets.
But Wallace can be that kind of player who gets you 14-17 yards a catch in this offense, either by snagging those contested grabs against man coverage if opponents continue their blitz parade against this year’s Ravens, or by shaking loose on some of Lamar Jackson’s scramble-scramble-scramble-juke-scramble-and-throw plays that can electrify the Bank at any given moment. What if Wallace can chip in with 40-50 yards a game as a third option, flipping field position once a week with a clutch downfield catch?
What if he does that consistently for the first half of the season and teams stop getting so cocky with the balls-to-the-wall blitz packages? A safety sitting back is one less worrying about Andrews or Bateman or the run game up front. A safety bracketing a sideline is one less guy trying to corral Jackson when he tucks the ball and scampers downfield.
It’s an interesting thought in these dog days of summer.
Consider Wallace’s tenure at Oklahoma State. After a nondescript freshman campaign, he exploded for nearly 1,500 yards on an average of 17.3 yards per catch. The next year he got injured, but still posted 900 yards on 17 yards a reception in nine games. The following year, after recuperating from a torn ACL, Wallace still averaged 15 yards a catch, generating 922 yards in 10 games.
Look, college is not the real world, in any profession. Tim Tebow was one of the greatest college players the world has ever seen, and would have been beaten out in the NFL by Stoney Case. Remember Adam Morrison, who was a star basketball player at Gonzaga? Averaged less than 8 points a game in the NBA, even while getting extra credit for his mustache. I carried a six pack, funnel and a hose in my backpack throughout my collegiate career. Nowadays? Maybe a flask and some arthritis medication.
The real world is different.
But if we’re comfortable projecting that Bateman can become that lead dog on the outside that the fans have been clamoring for, why can’t we also take a look at what Wallace does well and consider those possibilities?
We know what Duvernay and Proche bring to the table. They have both shown to have some skills operating out of the slot, and bring great hands — Proche is a bit more polished as a route runner, and Duvernay comes with more juice in a straight line. But Wallace brings something to the perimeter that this team doesn’t have an abundance of, and that will count when the season gets going.
Let’s see if it translates to the big leagues.