The Ravens traded away Anquan Boldin last month because the veteran wide receiver's production didn't match his salary cap hit, but they might have eyes for a draft prospect who is drawing comparisons to Boldin.
Gil Brandt, a legendary talent evaluator in the NFL who now writes for NFL.com and does radio for Sirius/XM, is the most notable of the draft analysts who see a young Boldin when watching tape of Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who as a junior caught 82 passes for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Tigers in 2012.
"Hopkins plays faster than his [pre-draft workout] times," Brandt recently wrote of Hopkins, who was clocked at 4.57 in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. "He has experience as a basketball player and inherently knows how to use his body to get in position to catch the football. He reminds me a lot of Anquan Boldin, though he's actually faster than Boldin was when he came out of Florida State. Hopkins is also very athletic."
According to my colleague Aaron Wilson, the Ravens met with Hopkins at the NFL scouting combine back in February and have "maintained interest" in the 20-year-old wide receiver since.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Hopkins is as tall as Boldin, but Boldin, who led the Ravens in receiving yards in each of the past three seasons, has about 20 pounds of muscle on Hopkins.
No, Boldin, who will turn 33 this fall, didn't get much separation against man coverage, especially when lined up outside. But he has one of the NFL's strongest sets of hands and was adept at shielding off defensive backs to make contested catches. That was a regular sight in the playoffs, when Boldin went into beast mode and led all receivers with 22 catches, 380 yards and four TDs.
As I wrote last month, Boldin wasn't productive enough to warrant his high price tag, but his skill set will be missed in this offense.
If the Ravens believe that Hopkins may one day be a similar player to Boldin, they could scribble his name on their draft card when the finish off the first round of the NFL draft with the 32nd overall pick.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Ravens and other NFL teams, has ranked Hopkins as the fourth-best wide receiver in the draft behind Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson, West Virginia's Tavon Austin, and California's Keenan Allen.
"You can make a case, though, that he is the most well-rounded of those guys," Jeremiah told me. "He can play inside. He can play outside. He's strong. He's fast enough. He doesn't have rare explosiveness, but he catches the ball. He's strong and tough. He can step in and play right away. I think he's ready to go."
Torrey Smith will become the No. 1 wide receiver now that Boldin is in San Francisco. Jacoby Jones could see his role increase. And youngsters such as Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson and David Reed could be in the mix to replace Boldin in the slot. But the Ravens have said they would like to draft a wide receiver this year.
Hopkins is projected to be a late first-round draft pick or early second-round draft pick. It is highly unlikely he will still be on the board when they are back on the clock at the end of the second.
Someone will take a chance on Hopkins before then. His measurables in spandex might not have been as eye-popping as some of his fellow prospects, but none were more productive than he was. He averaged 68 receptions, 1,003 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in his three seasons at Clemson.
"Though he hasn't been a big name like Cordarrelle Patterson, Keenan Allen, or Tavon Austin, it's possible that in the right system, Hopkins could be the most productive receiver in this class," wrote Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports in this throughout scouting report.
I wonder if the Ravens, who must replace the body-banging Boldin somehow, are thinking the same thing.