The Ravens are optimistic they will find the type of wide receiver they are looking for this offseason. And after listening to Mike Mayock’s conference call on Tuesday, you can see why they are so confident.
The respected NFL Network analyst feels this is “the best wide receiver draft” that he has “seen in years.”
The top wide receiver in Mayock’s eyes is Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, but he predicts that Watkins will be “long gone” before the Ravens are on the clock with the 17th overall pick in May’s draft. Still, Mayock feels they will have the chance to choose between a few impact receivers in the first round.
“You start to get into what flavor do you like,” Mayock said during a marathon conference call that lasted two hours and 37 minutes. “Marqise Lee is a completely different receiver than Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin. So I really believe when the Ravens get on the clock that probably at least one -- if not two of those three --will be available and they bring different things to the table.
“Lee can play inside or outside. He's a dangerous kickoff return guy. Evans and Benjamin are kind of today's flavor in the NFL -- those 6-5, 230-pound wide receivers, the back shoulder throws, outside the numbers in the red zone.”
Lee, who at six feet and 195 pounds is much smaller than Evans and Benjamin, was considered to be neck-and-neck with Watkins heading into his junior season at USC. But after catching a whopping 191 passes for 2,864 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first two seasons at USC, he had 57 catches for 791 yards and just four touchdowns in 2013.
Evans, a redshirt sophomore from Texas A&M, has been linked to the Ravens in many mock drafts. Playing with likely top-10 pick Johnny Manziel for two collegiate seasons, Evans caught 151 passes for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns, including a dozen of them in 2013.
Benjamin, a redshirt sophomore from Florida State, caught 84 passes for 1,506 yards and 19 touchdowns in two seasons there. He caught 15 of those touchdowns this past season, including the game-winning score in last month’s BCS title game.
“I think if you're a Ravens fan, you're going to know that at least one -- if not two of those three guys -- will be available in that slot,” Mayock said.
Mayock mentioned LSU’s Odell Beckham, Fresno State’s Davante Adams, Colorado’s Paul Richardson and Penn State’s Allen Robinson as other quality receivers who could come off the board in the first three rounds of this draft.
Still, Watkins, who had 240 catches for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns in three years at Clemson, is the one playmaker from this deep class of wide receivers who gets Mayock worked up.
“Watkins is a special player, and I usually don't get too excited about wide receivers in the Top¿10, but this kid is different,” Mayock said. “He's physically explosive. He's got great hands. He's got good size. He's got very good speed and what I really, really liked about this kid is he's got toughness. He'll physically beat press coverage. He high-points the ball. He's got a little attitude about him.
“He blocks people. You can see him getting pissed off during games and going after corners and safeties and linebackers. So he's got an attitude like he wants to be the best player there is, and when you combine that with his physical ability, I think it's awesome.”
The Ravens may think it is awesome, too, but if they want Watkins to catch passes from quarterback Joe Flacco in 2014, they will likely have to make a bold move to go get him.