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Willie Snead IV has become the ‘keeper’ of the Ravens’ young receivers | COMMENTARY

Ravens veteran Willie Snead IV doesn’t have great speed like fellow receivers Marquise Brown and Devin Duvernay, nor the size of receiver Miles Boykin or tight end Mark Andrews.

It seems that in the past two drafts, the team has tried to find a better slot receiver than Snead. But they haven’t.

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And they probably won’t in 2020.

The Ravens might have the youngest group of receivers in the NFL, with second-year starters in Brown and Boykin joined by rookies Duvernay and James Proche. Then there is the old man of the group, Snead, who is about to enter his seventh season at age 27.

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He can’t be counted out and has come a long way since he signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent out of Ball State in 2014.

“Man, the journey’s been awesome,” Snead said this week. “There’s been a lot of highs and lows. I had to overcome a lot, especially coming into the league. I was an undrafted guy, came into Cleveland [and] got cut, bounced around a couple practice squads and landed in New Orleans. It worked out for me.

“Three seasons in New Orleans made me a better player and made me a better leader. Then the Ravens came calling me, and ever since then, I haven’t looked back. It’s funny that I’m the oldest guy in the room now, because I still feel like a young man. I’m around all of these young guys now — they make me feel young. They push me and we feed off of each other. Just to be the oldest guy in the room is an honor and a blessing.”

On paper, Snead is the type of player that seems expendable. Few things stick out about him. He has 242 career catches for 2,961 yards and 13 touchdowns. But throughout his four stops in the league, he has been a consummate professional.

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Few players work harder. During this offseason, he dropped seven pounds to get under 200, which should make him leaner and faster. Competition brings out the best in players. Snead is also that down-and-dirty guy. Need a big third-down play to keep a drive going? Go to Snead, even if defenders are draped all over him.

He’ll run those slant routes across the middle inside the red zone or leap over a cornerback on a fade pattern in the back corner of the end zone. But the main reason the Ravens keep Snead around is because he is a ferocious blocker.

He doesn’t just get in the way; he’ll get in a defender’s face. His role is of vital importance in an offense that is predicated on running the ball. A year ago, the Ravens set single-season franchise records for total touchdowns (64), points (531), rushing yards (3,296) and total net yards (6,521).

A bulked-up Brown isn’t ready for that role or the physical pounding yet, and neither is Duvernay.

“Get in there, get dirty and handle your guys so you can get those big runs,” Snead said. “At the end of the day, if you’re blocking your guy, our offense is going to succeed. When you put that stuff on film, the young guys see it and they want to do it. You see teams around the league, guys are taking more effort in the blocking game. That’s just the mentality at the end of the day — to want to get in there and put a body on somebody.”

Snead likes the mentor role. He had several tutors in college and in the NFL, such as Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson and Marques Colston, who each took time to teach him about breaking down film, running routes and keeping his body in top condition. Teams need veteran voices like Snead, especially when enduring a losing streak or going through tough times.

Snead’s message is powerful because it doesn’t come from a star player, but someone who is just one of the guys. After training camp practices, he is usually hugging a kid somewhere and often goes over and speaks with children during those sessions.

In 2018, when Lamar Jackson was inserted as the starting quarterback and the Ravens became more run-oriented, some receivers were offended and openly complained. Not Snead, even though he ended up leading the team in receptions with 62 for 651 yards.

Regardless if it is social or personal issues, Snead has a way of keeping it in perspective, even if it’s sharing his thoughts on the next step Jackson needs to become a complete quarterback.

“He made a lot of great strides last year in the passing game, but I think the outside game is where he really wants to take [it] to the next level; hitting the comebacks, hitting the out-routes, hitting the hooks,” Snead said. “Throwing inside is so easy for him. He makes it look fluid, but I know when we were talking this offseason, he wanted to get better at throwing the outside game; hitting the go-balls, stretching the field a lot more.”

If Jackson gets better, so will Snead. He is versatile enough to play in the slot or move outside if needed. Last year, he was third on the team in catches with 31 for 339 yards and five touchdowns.

That might not sound like a big deal, but in crucial situations and big games, Snead simply finds ways to get open.

That’s another reason the Ravens find it hard to cut him.

He’s a keeper.

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