Last year, with the Ravens planning to select a wide receiver in the middle rounds of the NFL draft, team officials turned to quarterback Joe Flacco for advice.
He pushed for Tandon Doss, a possession receiver out of Indiana, because he thought Doss would be easy to throw to.
But Doss' abilities didn't translate immediately to the NFL — he played in only six games and didn't have a catch — and with Anquan Boldin in the final year of his contract, the Ravens are again in search of a player who might help Flacco reach his full potential.
Receiver is one of this draft's deepest positions. ESPN's resident guru, Mel Kiper, predicted more than 30 could be selected. And the Ravens will probably have to decide how important the need is to them in the opening round: two intriguing prospects from pass-deficient offenses could be there when they pick at No. 29.
Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill impressed scouts at the combine with his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame and 4.31 40-yard-dash time. But Hill caught fewer than 50 passes in his college career. Last year, as a junior, he made 28, averaged nearly 30 yards per catch and scored five touchdowns for a Yellow Jackets team running the option offense Paul Johnson implemented at Navy 10 years ago.
"A guy like Hill, he obviously showed up at the combine," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "Everyone watched it. He's an explosive guy who plays in that triple-option offense and really jumped off the film in terms of vertical speed. He's raw, like a lot of guys are who have come out of that offense."
Rueben Randle was in a similar situation; he had only 44 catches his first two years as LSU relied heavily on the read option, but caught 53 for 917 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. He's big (6 foot 3, 210 pounds) and ran a 4.55 at the combine.
Either Hill or Randle could give the Ravens a new element on offense: a receiver who can go up and make catches on the outside. Last year's second-round pick, Torrey Smith, is a pure burner who generally needs separation to make a play. Boldin isn't as fast or physical as he once was. Doss can get open in certain situations but hasn't yet shown he can win battles against NFL corners. Same for LaQuan Williams, the undrafted free agent signee out of Maryland who saw considerable time on special teams.
"One guy I really like for [the Ravens] is LSU's Rueben Randle," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. and ESPN. "He's kind of a do-it-all guy with a lot of ability. He had really poor quarterback play at LSU, a Stone Age-type offense. I think he's a much better pro than he is collegiate."
Historically, though, the Ravens have struggled scouting top receivers. They've twice drafted them in the first round. Both Mark Clayton (No. 22 in 2005) and Travis Taylor (the 10th pick in 2000) fizzled.
"That's probably the one area from when I was there to since that they've struggled," former Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Torrey Smith looks like he has some potential. He could become a legitimate guy and end up being a really good pick. But that's been a problem area that they'd certainly like to address."
Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta mentioned South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery as the sort of tough receiver who could make plays on the outside. At just under 6-3, Jeffery lacks top-end speed but has played effectively at nearly 230 pounds. He could be an option if the Ravens wait until the second round. Appalachian State's Brian Quick, another lanky prospect with upside, is also considered a second-round talent. He left school as the all-time leader in catches, yards and touchdowns but claims he rarely received positional coaching. He also played only one year of high school football and is considered a project.
But there's also a number of smaller speedy receivers – who play in the slot or on the outside and could also contribute in the return game — available. Baylor's Kendall Wright is considered the top playmaker in that group and could fall to the end of the first round. The Ravens could also pick up a player like Arkansas' Joe Adams as late as the third round, or Florida International's T.Y. Hilton. Neither is expected to become more than a No. 3 receiver — at least early in their careers — but they have the potential to be explosive return men and would give offensive coordinator Cam Cameron more diversity when calling plays.
Some analysts see the Ravens' lack of receivers who can make a play off a quick slant or bubble screen as a weakness that has hurt Flacco. Williamson believes Flacco is most comfortable in the shotgun because he is able scan the field more quickly and spot open receivers.
"When you look at their offense, it's quite predictable," he said. "They don't do a lot to set [Flacco] up to get receivers open. I think the receivers in general are a little bit of a weakness. Boldin is a good player, but he doesn't separate that well. He's not all that fast. And Torrey Smith is sort of a one-trick pony."
Of course the Ravens could end up with a more prototypical receiver, one who is neither uniquely sized or especially fast. A trio of Big Ten receivers — Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, Wisconsin's Nick Toon and Iowa's Marvin McNutt — appear to be solid choices, as does Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu.
Baltimore Sun reporters Matt Vensel and Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun