The Ravens entered the 2011 NFL draft looking for at least one playmaker at the wide receiver position. They were certainly not alone. Seven wide receivers were selected in the first two rounds of the draft, including Maryland's Torrey Smith, whom the Ravens hauled in with the 58th overall pick in Round 2.
That pick has paid off for the Ravens, who in the past had trouble drafting and developing players at the position. Smith had 15 touchdown catches in his first two years, and in his third season he leads the Ravens with 36 receptions and 707 receiving yards. Only six NFL players have more receiving yards.
One of those players is Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, who was the fourth overall pick and the first wide receiver off the board that year. Green, whom the Ravens secondary will try to slow down Sunday, leads the league with 862 receiving yards and five of his 57 catches have gone for touchdowns.
Four other wide receivers who were selected in the 2011 NFL draft currently lead their teams in receiving yards, including Jacksonville's Cecil Shorts, Oakland's Denarius Moore, New York's Jeremy Kerley and Atlanta's Julio Jones, who led the NFL in receiving yards through five weeks before a foot injury ended his season.
Green Bay's Randall Cobb led the Packers in receptions heading into Week 6, when a low tackle by Ravens safety Matt Elam broke his leg, sidelining him for two months.
Other wide receivers from that draft class who are making significant contributions to their teams include Baltimore's Tandon Doss, Cleveland's Greg Little, St. Louis' Austin Pettis, Washington's Leonard Hankerson and Detroit's Kris Durham (though Durham was originally drafted by Seattle).
"Those are my boys," Smith said of his draft classmates. "I talk to them throughout the year. It's not like I look at it where I don't want them to do well. It's always fun to see A.J., Julio, Randall, you can keep on going. There are so many guys around the league in our class -- Greg -- who are doing well. Any time you see someone who you know and have been around succeed, it's awesome, and I'm glad to be mentioned with those guys."
You commonly hear broadcasters and analysts mention that young wide-outs usually don't find their stride until their third year. There have been some players from that 2011 class that have yet to pan out -- such as Kansas City's Jonathan Baldwin and Detroit's Titus Young -- but this group is making those blanket statements look less cliched.
That 2011 wide receiver class looks to be one of the best in recent memory, and we will get to see two of the best, Smith and Green, on the same field Sunday afternoon.