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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

It could also be Will Fuller V. The 2016 first-round pick averaged a career-high 16.6 yards per catch in 2020, when he finished with 879 yards in just 11 games for the Houston Texans. But injuries remain a concern; the speedster broke his thumb in Week 4 last season and finished his lone year with the Miami Dolphins with just four catches for 26 yards. In February, he shared on his Instagram a photo of his left hand, wrapped in a bandage, with an apparent splint on his left middle finger. “Dang finger man,” Fuller wrote in the caption of the since-deleted photo.

Alignment

The Ravens aren’t rigid in their wide receiver roles. Wideouts are expected to move around from spot to spot. Flexibility on offense is as important as it is on defense. “I don’t think we really have a ‘slot’ player or an ‘outside’ player,” Harbaugh said after the Ravens drafted Duvernay and Proche in 2020.

That’s not to say their receiver usage is random. Every formation and personnel grouping has its purpose. But with Brown out of the picture, the Ravens will have to sort out their receiver rotation not only inside but outside as well.

According to SIS, Brown trailed only Andrews in routes run from the slot last year (332). Duvernay was second (216), followed by Proche (141), Bateman (112) and Wallace (31). Brown saw less time as an outside receiver (263 routes run), but still only Bateman (273) lined up there more often. Among the Ravens’ returning receivers, only Duvernay (121) earned regular snaps outside.

 

Bateman, who was most productive at Minnesota in outside alignments, will likely feature as the Ravens’ top option there. But who will be his running mate on the other side? Duvernay has been more efficient when lined up in the slot, though he could grow into an outside role with more experience. Wallace, who lined up almost exclusively as an outside receiver at Oklahoma State, saw more time inside during training camp and in games. And Proche, the smallest of the Ravens’ top wide receivers, has lined up almost exclusively in the slot.

It’s not a question that demands an answer. The Ravens used at least three wideouts on over half their plays last season, but they won’t line up with two wide receivers outside the numbers on every play. They can flex out Andrews or a running back in obvious passing downs. They might rely more on bunch formations, which reduce the splits of their receivers.

Or they might just acquire another starting-level wide receiver anyway. They have four months to figure these things out.

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