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Jonas Shaffer: What do the Ravens need at wide receiver? It depends on what they already have.

Jonas Shaffer, Baltimore Sun on

Published in Football

In 2022, that could be a mandate for the position. The Ravens’ investment in tight ends and fullbacks — veterans Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard and Andrews and rookies Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely, if healthy, are all likely to make the 53-man roster — should give Roman the flexibility to use more two- and three-tight-end groupings next season. That would mean fewer snaps for the Ravens’ wide receivers.

Improved run blocking would help their cause. For all that Brown brought to the Ravens’ passing offense, he offered little in the run game. According to a review of the Ravens’ 38 designed runs that went for 20-plus yards over the past two seasons, Brown was involved as a play-side blocker only a handful of times — partly because of how often he lined up out wide, far from the action. But when the Ravens ran reverses, for instance, it was typically to Miles Boykin’s side. And in the slot, where Brown also saw time, Duvernay was far more effective at sealing off second-level defenders.

Those kinds of limitations and tendencies can make an offense more predictable. With Boykin released and Sammy Watkins not re-signed, the Ravens will likely have to make do with a less imposing group of wideouts. The 6-foot-1 Bateman is the tallest of the team’s likely contributors, but he had the worst run-blocking grade of any Ravens wide receiver last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Duvernay and Proche both graded out below backup levels. Wallace had the NFL’s best mark, but on a small sample size: He had just 26 run-blocking snaps, nine fewer than Proche.

With the versatile Landry unavailable, the free-agent class of receivers lacks reliable run blockers. Former Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans wideout Julio Jones has a solid track record and good size at 6-3, but injuries have limited him to 19 games over the past two years.

Downfield ability

The Ravens lost more than just their most productive wide receiver when they traded away Brown. They also lost their only proven deep threat at the position.

 

According to Sports Info Solutions, only seven NFL wide receivers last season were targeted on more passes of at least 20 air yards than Brown (28). In 2020 (25 targets), there were only five. Brown led the Ravens with 464 receiving yards on deep throws over the past two years, even if his overall efficiency (13 catches on 53 targets) was lacking.

In Andrews, the Ravens still have maybe the league’s best field-stretching tight end. Targeted 19 times on throws of at least 20 yards downfield last season — by far the most among NFL tight ends — he caught eight for 246 yards. But the drop-off after Brown and Andrews is staggering.

Bateman, who has good speed (4.43-second 40-yard dash), if not game-breaking speed, had four catches on eight deep throws for 131 yards in his injury-shortened rookie season. Duvernay and Proche each recorded just one catch of at least 20 yards over their first two seasons in Baltimore, with Duvernay seeing four such targets and Proche two. Wallace didn’t get a downfield shot in 2021.

The Ravens’ play-action game will give Jackson big-play opportunities, but he’ll need another home run threat. It could be Bateman, who, as a sophomore at Minnesota, finished eighth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards per catch (20.3). It could be Wallace, who feasted on jump-ball opportunities at Oklahoma State. It could be Duvernay, already one of the NFL’s best returners and one of the team’s fastest players. It could be a mix of all three, Proche and the rookie tight ends.

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