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Preston: The most productive small receiver in Ravens history weighs in on Marquise Brown

The natural comparison to make for newly drafted Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown is with retired wideout Mark Clayton. Both are from the University of Oklahoma and were drafted in the first round by the Ravens, and neither is very big.

Clayton had a disappointing career in Baltimore, catching only 234 passes for 3,116 yards and 12 touchdowns in five years before signing with the St. Louis Rams.

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But the most productive small receiver in Ravens history watched with intrigue as the team drafted the 5-foot-9, 166-pound Brown on Thursday night with the No. 25 overall pick. The Ravens took a gamble on a 5-7, 170-pound receiver/returner named Jermaine Lewis in the fifth round of the team’s first draft in 1996.

In the early years of the franchise, Lewis became the team’s top weapon as a receiver and still holds many team records for punt and kickoff returns.

Lewis liked the Ravens’ pick of Brown.

“I’ve seen the highlights and I’ve heard about him. I was hoping they would get him,” Lewis said of Brown. “All I hear about is how he makes plays. If you put it in his hands or Lamar [Jackson]’s hands, then you’ve got two guys making plays, and before you know it, everybody wants to be a part of that.

“If he is going to the first round at 160 pounds, man, he has got to be a baller. He has to be doing some things if teams were going to take him in the first round at 160 pounds. You can’t measure a person’s heart. He just plays off the chart.”

Lewis had gone through similar criticism for his size throughout his career. He was a running back at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt but played wide receiver during his time at Maryland. Few thought he could make it in the NFL, even as a returner, but Lewis never flinched.

Ravens wide receiver Jermaine Lewis makes his way through Giants defenders on his way to an 84-yard kick return for a touchdown at Raymond James Stadium during Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 28, 2001.
Ravens wide receiver Jermaine Lewis makes his way through Giants defenders on his way to an 84-yard kick return for a touchdown at Raymond James Stadium during Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 28, 2001. (ELISE AMENDOLA / AP)

He never considered himself small.

“First of all, I never thought I was small; I just thought everybody else was big,” Lewis said. “I was always smaller than everybody else on all the teams I played for, so basically I got used to it. So, you just find ways to be productive. If you are productive on the field then they can’t keep you off it.

“You have to have a strong will, because if you don’t pass the eye test, they think you can’t play or perform at a high level. I ran into a lot of obstacles in my career as far as being a receiver.”

Lewis is an assistant football coach at St. Frances and helps run football camps around the country for Under Armour. In the past month, he has tutored about 400 receivers from Texas to Florida to Maryland.

When it comes to receivers who aren’t the prototype, Lewis has a message.

“Every team needs a fast, small player,” Lewis said. “There are 32 of them out there. In my mind, I always felt I was one of the best of any of the small guys. Every team needs one and that was a way of making the roster.”

Brown had 75 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns during his final season at Oklahoma. He could score from anywhere. He talked about playing on the outside in the NFL during a recent visit to Baltimore, but the Ravens might have different plans.

The Ravens will give Brown his share of touches as a receiver. He’ll get a lot of quick hitch passes and screens, but will also handle the ball on reverses and pitches. But Lewis acknowledged it’s a different matchup with cornerbacks in the NFL compared with college football.

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The slot might become Brown’s home.

When asked if he could have played outside in the NFL, Lewis said: “Nah. There are some challenges when you get big cornerbacks like [former Raven] Chris McAlister. If a quarterback doesn’t throw the ball deep, that’s a problem. You’re not going to win that battle. There are some limitations that have to do with my size. Now, if you have a quarterback that is going to throw it deep and let you run under, then I will go get it.”

Former Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda used Lewis perfectly. He put the smaller Lewis inside and the bigger Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander on the outside to give the Ravens one of the top passing attacks in the NFL when the Ravens first came to Baltimore.

Jackson used to complain about being used as a decoy so much to get Lewis open. A major adjustment for Lewis, as it will be for Brown, is learning how to cut. Lewis studied game film of Eric Metcalf recommended to him by former Ravens special teams coach Scott O’Brien.

“I studied him and how to make proper cuts, which holes to hit, that’s when I started playing better,” Lewis said. “I took my lumps at first. Sometimes you learn the hard way and when you get cracked up in that hole, you start figuring out how to set this up better.

“Hey, you’re not going to win the weight battle, but you can win the speed and quickness battle all day. I will recommend to him putting on weight, especially with your legs, because you’re going to have to make strong cuts. You’ve got to have nice balance, have gears that you can turn on and off. You don’t always want to be in fifth gear. Sometimes you have to slow down, find the hole and learn how to negotiate the cuts and make them valid.”

If Brown plays in the slot, he will be lined up against the other team’s nickelback or possibly a third-string safety. That’s clearly a mismatch that works in the Ravens’ favor.

Speed is a great weapon. Lewis had it and so does Brown, regardless of size.

“For me, once I learned football and how to control my speed, I got more advantages,” Lewis said. “I could shift people’s bodies and put my feet down quicker. Then, once I learned to beat the man in man-to-man coverage, they couldn’t keep up with me going across the field or on a corner route.

“If you got speed, flash it and they’ll get scared of you. Because they can’t keep up with you. In their brains, they have to back up because they don’t want to get beat or trail. You use that to your advantage. Like I said, every team needs a fast, small guy. The Ravens appear to have gotten one.”

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