Willie Snead IV led the Ravens with 62 catches for 651 yards last season, rating among the NFL’s most dependable slot receivers. Seth Roberts, a free-agent signing this month, had nearly 500 yards with the Oakland Raiders in 2018, mostly out of the slot, before being cut this offseason.
So at one receiver position, anyway, the Ravens are set. The problem, as ever, is that it just isn’t enough.
Why might the Ravens use their first-round pick on a wide receiver?
Among the 12 teams that made the NFL playoffs last season, only the Ravens had a leading wide receiver finish with fewer than 750 receiving yards. And he left in free agency: John Brown (715 yards) signed a three-year deal with the Buffalo Bills. Michael Crabtree (607 yards), a 2018 free-agent signing like Brown, was cut after an unproductive season. Among current Ravens wide receivers, only Snead, Roberts and Chris Moore have caught an NFL pass.
In a league where over half of all plays last season featured a three-wide receiver alignment, the Ravens enter next week’s NFL draft with little potency at the position.
The team got to the playoffs last season by doing things differently. The evolution of dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson and stockpiling of talented tight ends means the Ravens can zig where others zag.
Still, the offense needs another productive wide receiver (or two), if only to keep defenses honest. Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott, before his season-ending hamstring injury, showed little during their rookie seasons to suggest that they might one day be capable of headlining the Ravens’ pass attack. Help will likely have to come from a rookie.
The Ravens have headed down that path before. Most of the time, it’s ended in a thicket of briars. Torrey Smith, a second-round pick in 2011, was a rare homegrown success, but even he had just one season of 900-plus yards over his four years with the Ravens. The team is still waiting on its star.
“I can't tell you why it hasn't worked out for the most part,” NFL Network draft analyst and former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. “There have been some hits. … Every team just kind of has one little area or one position that gives them a little bit of trouble, and that seems to be it.”
The Ravens have been linked to receivers with the No. 22 pick, but Jeremiah said he “would not be shocked” if they traded down to acquire a second-round pick, then took a receiver later with their first pick. Last week, Jeremiah tweeted that he would not be surprised if only one receiver went in the first round, an indictment of the class’ lack of top-tier talents.
“I think one of the biggest things that we have to do is just get some at-bats and swing,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said at the team’s predraft news conference this month. “It’s hard to be a .400 hitter if you’re only going to bat twice. So we have to take some chances. We have to find some guys that we like. We have to appreciate the really good football players, guys that make plays. Receivers come in all different shapes and sizes.”
Which receivers might the Ravens consider at No. 22 overall or on the second day?
D.K. Metcalf, Mississippi — Metcalf is considered the draft’s top receiver prospect, but there’s uncertainty about how far that will really take him. He could go in the top 10. He could also fall to the back third of the first round. With Metcalf’s size and strength, he has the physical skills to be an elite receiver, but he lacks agility and is still far from a polished route runner.
N’Keal Harry, Arizona State — Harry plays with the swagger and confidence of someone who starred as soon as he suited up for the Sun Devils. Scouts are skeptical about his ability to separate downfield against NFL-level cornerbacks, but Harry’s competitiveness and ball skills give him a chance every time he’s targeted. He’s a pain to bring down in the open field and can be just as physical in the running game.
Hakeem Butler, Iowa State — The Baltimore native is a physical marvel (6 feet 5, 227 pounds, 4.48-second 40-yard dash time) with marvelous college production (1,318 receiving yards and 22.0 yards per catch in 2018). But he struggled with drops and against press coverage in the Big 12, a conference not known for its defense. To show his impressive open-field ability, he’ll need to diversify his route tree.
A.J. Brown, Mississippi — Working mostly out of the slot, Brown was the Rebels’ most productive receiver over the past two seasons, not Metcalf. Scouts say he’s quicker than he is fast, somewhat limiting his potential as a downfield threat, but he has an advanced ability to get open. At 6-0 and a well-built 226 pounds, he also has shown promise as a blocker.
Marquise Brown, Oklahoma — “Hollywood,” as he’s known, combined for 2,413 receiving yards over the past two seasons. It helped that Brown was catching passes from Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, but few could stop him in the open field. His incredible speed and acceleration made him a home run hitter for the Sooners, but some see his 5-9 frame and offseason foot surgery as red flags.
Parris Campbell, Ohio State — There’s no doubting that Campbell can fly. At the NFL scouting combine, he tied for the fastest time in the 40-yard dash (4.31 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.03 seconds). But Campbell was most effective as a gadget receiver in college, racking up yardage on jet sweeps and screens. He has the hands and fluidity to be a potential star. It will take some time and coaching to get there, though.
TV: ABC, ESPN, NFL Network
Round 1 begins Thursday at 8 p.m.; Rounds 2-3 on Friday at 7 p.m.; Rounds 4-7 on Saturday at 2 p.m.