With NFL draft nearing and wide receiver needed, history is no help to Ravens

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome watches practice in September.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome watches practice in September. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Whenever it comes to selecting wide receivers in the NFL draft, the Ravens consistently have dropped the ball.

So there's some apprehension over the Ravens having the No. 26 pick in the first round. They need a receiver — not just anyone, but a vertical threat, a consistent playmaker whom they don't have on the roster.


The Ravens are a team of possession receivers. The best, of course, is veteran Steve Smith, who can beat a defense in multiple ways but just can't stretch one anymore.

Most likely, there will be a big-play talent available when the Ravens are on the clock, but their track record of finding impact players at the position is poor. Of the 21 receivers the team has taken since 1996, only two — Jermaine Lewis and Torrey Smith — contributed significantly.


Two receivers were taken in the first round, but neither Travis Taylor (2000 draft) nor Mark Clayton (2005) was a major contributor, much less a home run hitter.

"We try, I try, but we, as a group, we try to learn from all of our mistakes," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Wednesday at a predraft news conference. "How can we get better? What were we not looking at that led us to make that decision? And hopefully, it will make a better decision for us going forward."

The Ravens have had a lot of mistakes to learn from, and there is no one to blame but Newsome and his scouting department. The Ravens have had some good wide receivers coaches, like Mike Sheppard, Richard Mann, Milt Jackson and Jim Hostler. But few of the receivers they have drafted, except Brandon Stokley, have gone on to become impact players with other teams.

Clayton was small, and Taylor didn't have much toughness. In 2004, the Ravens selected three receivers in the draft — Devard Darling, Clarence Moore, Derek Abney — and none of them panned out.

The Ravens have talked up some others, like Patrick Johnson (1998), Ron Johnson (2002), Yamon Figurs (2007) and David Reed (2010), but they all left town like a thief in the night, never to be heard from again.

So if the Ravens select a receiver this time around, what will be different?

"The receiver position is changing with the size and the speed and the fact that more colleges are in a spread offense and they are throwing the ball," Newsome said. "The receivers are getting more opportunities to catch a lot of balls. … I only caught 25 balls as a senior in college, but that game is changing, because the college game has changed."

"Receivers are coming into the league a little bit better prepared, and I think that will just help us do better."

The Ravens have downplayed their need at receiver, and coach John Harbaugh likes to point out the younger players at the position, such as Michael Campanaro (River Hill), Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken. But let's get serious: They might develop into stars down the road, but they don't scare anybody right now.

Campanaro has been more hyped than productive on the field. Because of his size, Brown is effective inside the red zone but gets little separation outside of it. Aiken has potential but isn't the speed guy this team needs.

The Ravens were correct in not matching the five-year, $40 million contract the San Francisco 49ers offered Torrey Smith in March, but he did leave them with a big hole. Defenses have to honor speed. Smith didn't always make the catch, but you had to be aware of his presence all game. He could flat-out fly, which is the major reason he drew 13 pass-interference calls last year.

The Ravens also had another speedster in Jacoby Jones, now with the San Diego Chargers. He didn't always seem to know what planet he was on, but his speed gave him a presence. That can't be denied.


Despite the Ravens' struggles to develop receivers through the years, Newsome always has been able to get a quality performer through free agency, signing standouts like Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin.

Maybe he'll make a similar move later in the offseason. But the Ravens have more than $100 million invested in quarterback Joe Flacco, who has proved he can't carry a team of no-name receivers as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady can.

But given ample weapons and time to throw, he can win. Right now, the offensive line is in place, but the Ravens don't have a dangerous tight end or a fast wide receiver.

"It seems like receivers, in general, have been contributing faster over the last couple years," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "Last year's receiver class was outstanding. We want all our guys to contribute right away. Our goal is to bring guys in here that dress and play, and if we're not doing that, we're not doing a very good job."

This year's crop of receivers, he added, "is a good class. There a lot of different players, and we think we can get a good receiver in a lot of different rounds. Fortunately, there are some really talented guys, and hopefully we can get one."

Yes, hopefully.


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