As soon as the Ravens drafted Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown in the first round with the No. 25 overall pick in Thursday night’s NFL draft, memories of 2005 returned, when the team selected another small Sooners receiver, Mark Clayton, at pick No. 22.
Clayton was 5 feet 10 and 197 pounds. Brown is 5-9 and 166 pounds. Clayton never amounted to much during his five year stay in Baltimore, but the Ravens apparently think they can get more out of Brown.
I admire general manager Eric DeCosta for not being afraid to select Brown after the team failed in so many attempts to draft a No. 1 receiver, dating to when the franchise moved from Cleveland to Baltimore for the 1996 season. The preference here, though, was for the Ravens to take a top pass rusher to build on a strong secondary, and the team had a chance to do so because Mississippi State's Montez Sweat was still available. The Ravens apparently rated Brown higher on their draft board.
That makes sense.
But what doesn't is that the Ravens have talked about being a strong, downhill running team that requires receivers to be blockers, and they drafted a player who weighs only 166 pounds. Brown, who had 132 catches for 2,413 yards and 17 touchdowns during his final two years at Oklahoma, has great speed, but is being paired with Lamar Jackson, a second-year quarterback who has struggled with accuracy and throwing deep.
Scouting reports have also been critical of Brown for being overpowered at the catch point and easily having the ball knocked from his grasp.
“I think Lamar’s an excellent passer who’s going to get better and better,” DeCosta said. “We all talk about it, but he’s working his butt off, and he’s going to get better. All these young quarterbacks improve. And I think with Marquise, he’s going to be an asset to this offense.
“He and Lamar are going to be electric players when they’re on the field at the same time.”
It will be interesting to see how the Ravens use Brown. Combined with Jackson, the Ravens have a lot of speed. Brown is known for being able to run short to intermediate crossing routes and turning them into big gains. He can be used on sweeps and jet screens, something that hasn't been in the Ravens’ arsenal for years.
But he won't be running away from players in the NFL the way he did in college. If he plays on the outside, which seems likely because of his speed, he'll be facing the other team's top cornerback, who will be big, fast and probably press him hard at the line of scrimmage. There are also concerns about the Lisfranc injury Brown suffered during the Big 12 championship game last season.
However, Brown fills a need for the Ravens because they don't have a legitimate No. 1 receiver. After Thursday night, I'm still not sure they have one. But this is DeCosta's first draft as GM, and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, a receiver who fits more of the prototypical mold might have been a better pick than an undersized player, especially for a team that has had so many failures at the position.
“I think chemistry, we want to put as many really good players around Lamar as we can on offense,” DeCosta said. “And [Brown] is one of those kind of guys that when you look at successful offenses throughout history, there’s a relationship between the receivers and the quarterback. This guy plays in an offense, not identical, but similar to some of the things we want to do. He understands the offense and he complements Lamar and our other receivers very well.”