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Mike Preston: Ravens continue to drop the ball in decadeslong search for star receiver | COMMENTARY

The Ravens have been in Baltimore for 25 years and still haven’t drafted a No. 1 wide receiver.

It’s been the Achilles’ heel of the team’s college scouting department, evidenced by first-round failures such as Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton and Breshad Perriman. Next up could be Marquise Brown, the 25th player chosen in the 2019 draft.

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It’s way too early to reach a conclusion on Brown, who is only in his second season. But when you watch the Ravens’ 30-24 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, you start thinking, uh oh, they blew it again.

Brown’s final stats against the Titans: three targets, zero receptions, zero yards. Only the lottery can be won with that combination.

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Brown’s statistics for the season won’t remind anyone of Arizona Cardinals star DeAndre Hopkins either. Brown has 32 catches for 431 yards and two touchdowns.

For some receivers, such as Brown’s teammate Miles Boykin, those are good numbers. But the Ravens coveted Brown coming out of Oklahoma. He was supposed to bring speed and elusiveness to the offense and build on an injury-prone rookie season in which he caught 46 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns.

The transformation of the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Brown into “Mr. Muscles” during the offseason was impressive, but so far it has led to more hype than production.

At this time in his career, Brown appears to be a No. 2 receiver at best, someone who could flourish in combination with a legitimate No. 1 target.

The Ravens could be more creative with Brown, such as moving him around the formation or putting him in motion at the snap, like the Kansas City Chiefs do with Tyreek Hill. The Ravens have tried to use Brown across the middle, but he doesn’t appear to like the contact. On long passes, quarterback Lamar Jackson has underthrown Brown or not released the ball fast enough when the receiver has a step on a cornerback.

The passing offense has become stagnant. The Ravens are limited because of Jackson’s struggles to throw accurate passes deep and outside the numbers. Brown and Jackson also lack opportunities because of the Ravens’ vanilla passing game, which only uses the middle of the field.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has spent most of his career developing running games, not passing attacks, even going back to his days in San Francisco from 2011 to 2014.

Back then, the 49ers’ passing game was built by coach Jim Harbaugh, John’s brother.

But let’s be careful here.

If the Ravens had a No. 1 receiver, that wouldn’t make Jackson more accurate, but it would at least give the Ravens another weapon for defenses to account for. That receiver could become a factor inside the red zone or make clutch catches despite being bracketed or double teamed. He could keep some defensive coordinators up at night while opening areas in the middle of the field for tight end Mark Andrews.

But there is nobody as talented as Hopkins, Julio Jones or Mike Evans on the roster. The Ravens don’t have any rookies who could develop into a No. 1 receiver the way recent first-round picks CeeDee Lamb of the Dallas Cowboys and Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings have.

Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Sunday’s 30-24 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The best the Ravens have ever done is sign veterans past their primes, including Steve Smith Sr., Anquan Boldin and now Dez Bryant.

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They’ve tried through the draft.

In 2000, they selected Florida’s Taylor with the 10th overall pick. He wasn’t the answer, and neither was Clayton, a first-round pick from Oklahoma in 2005. Perriman had outstanding size and speed coming out of Central Florida in 2015, but he had one tiny problem: He couldn’t catch.

The Ravens were so turned off by the Perriman experiment that they declined to draft another big receiver in the first round in 2019: Ole Miss’ DK Metcalf. Now Metcalf is headed to stardom with the Seattle Seahawks, and the Ravens are still in search of a No. 1.

The Ravens have had similar bad luck with quarterbacks and running backs in their history, but that changed with Jamal Lewis and Joe Flacco. They need a similar fate with receivers.

It’s the big hole on their draft record.

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