The Ravens have known for a while what kind of wide receivers they want to acquire. And, if you believe general manager Eric DeCosta, they’re also prepared to wait a while in this month’s NFL draft to get one.
In a conference call Thursday, DeCosta told reporters that with the “prolific” number of high-quality prospects in this potentially historic wide receiver class, “there’s a really good chance to get a guy that can probably be a starter” as late as the fifth round.
Little is known about the Ravens’ draft plans at wide receiver except that they plan to select at least one. Like inside linebacker, it’s a position of urgent need. Rookies Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin and second-year pro Jaleel Scott combined with veterans Willie Snead IV and Chris Moore last season for 1,148 receiving yards; 12 wide receivers around the NFL finished with more yardage in 2019.
“We have a really good feel for the type of receivers we want to bring in,” coach John Harbaugh said at the team’s season-ending news conference in January. “Without letting the cat out of the bag too much, we want a certain type of guy, and we want a certain type of other guy that would fit us. And we’ll be looking hard for those guys.”
They don’t have to look too hard. Unless the Ravens trade up, four wide receivers — Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III and LSU’s Justin Jefferson — are expected to be off the board before No. 28 overall. But the sheer volume of options elsewhere is as notable as their diversity of skill set.
With one of their three top-60 picks, the Ravens could target a security blanket, a matchup problem or a deep threat and find great value. Here’s how nine potential wide receiver targets stack up, why they’d fit and why they might not.
Clemson’s Tee Higgins (No. 3 overall)
Why he’d fit: Calling Higgins a possession receiver would be like calling an iPhone a telephone; they do that job well enough, but there’s so much more to both. At 6 feet 4 and 216 pounds, with vine-like 34-inch arms, Higgins knows how to leverage his long stride, imposing size and jump-ball ability to make difficult catches look easy.
That includes deep shots, too. Higgins averaged nearly 20 yards per catch during a 1,167-yard season as a third-year junior last year. He’s not a burner, as evidenced by his 4.54-second 40-yard dash at Clemson’s Pro Day, but Higgins eats up space quickly on downfield routes. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 15 catches for 565 yards last season on “deep” throws — any pass of at least 20 air yards past the line of scrimmage — both top-10 marks nationally.
Why he might not: Higgins happened to play in one of the nation’s most dynamic offenses the past two seasons, and with maybe the sport’s most talented quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. That can help mask weaknesses, such as a limited route tree, underdeveloped upper body and occasional sluggishness at the line of scrimmage.
USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. (No. 5)
Why he’d fit: Pittman, the son of the former NFL running back, has maybe the surest hands in the draft. Over four seasons of steadily improved production, culminating last year with 101 catches for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns, he had just five drops on 176 career "catchable” passes, according to PFF. (That’s one drop for every 35 passes; only three Ravens wide receivers were even targeted 35 times last season.)
With his 6-4, 223-pound frame, Pittman can overpower cornerbacks for contested catches. But he’s a surprisingly slick route runner, too, capable of sinking his hips and getting out of his breaks with little wasted motion. After showing good straight-line speed (4.52-second 40) and great short-area quickness (second-best 20-yard shuttle) at the NFL scouting combine, Pittman’s drawn physical comparisons to Pro Bowl receivers Mike Evans and Kenny Golladay.
Why he might not: Considering Pittman’s ball skills, catch radius and special teams contributions (three blocked punts), his floor is pretty high. Still, there’s room for improvement in how Pittman handles press coverage. And with how rarely he played inside for the Trojans, escaping to the slot probably won’t be a consideration early in his career.
Pittman’s late-career breakout season and lack of top-end speed also raise questions about his next-level potential.
Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. (No. 6 overall)
Why he’d fit: In Brown, the Ravens already have a wide receiver who can run by defenses. The 6-1, 227-pound Shenault does that, too. But he can also run through them. His 44 missed tackles over the past two seasons are the most by a receiver in the draft class, according to PFF. He earned his longest reception in 2018 with a stiff arm and his second longest last season with a spin move.
Most intriguing is his versatility. Shenault lined up at all three wide receiver positions, tight end, halfback and as a Wildcat quarterback for the Buffaloes. In his sophomore year, he caught over 80% of his targeted passes, thriving as a screen game weapon. Last year, he lined up primarily as an outside receiver and averaged 13.6 yards per reception with a 70% catch rate.
Why he might not: If injuries explained Shenault’s drop-off in production from a breakout 2018 (87 catches for 1,019 yards in nine games) to a ho-hum 2019 (56 catches for 764 yards), another offseason operation won’t ease durability concerns. As a sophomore, he tore his labrum and suffered a turf toe injury. Last year, he missed two games with a core-muscle injury that required surgery after the combine.
Shenault’s not considered a polished route runner, so if his speed and power are diminished, his value falls sharply. His bowling-ball approach lends itself to further injury risks, too.
South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards (No. 7)
Why he’d fit: Edwards played on the nation’s 12th-least efficient passing offense last season — for reference, Maryland’s was 11th worst — and still finished with 71 receptions for 816 yards and six touchdowns, including a couple of “SportsCenter”-worthy catches. In only his second season returning punts, he also averaged 17.9 yards on seven returns, which would’ve ranked second in the Southeastern Conference had he qualified.
With a well-built 6-3, 212-pound frame, Edwards was a three-level threat for the Gamecocks. In a loss to Alabama last season, he bowled over defenders on two jet sweep shovel pass plays, beat future top cornerback pick Patrick Surtain II over the middle in press coverage three times and dusted possible first-round pick Trevon Diggs on a vertical route. (Of course, that last pass ended up being well overthrown.)
Why he might not: Edwards has shown the versatility to play as a slot or outside receiver, but over half of his catches last season came on screen passes, according to PFF. Even with his strength and hand-fighting skills, it’ll be hard to uncover against cornerbacks at the next level on intermediate routes if he’s not a threat over the top.
Injuries have also become a question. A late-season knee injury forced Edwards to miss two games and the Senior Bowl, and he broke his foot in late February while preparing for the combine.
Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool (No. 9)
Why he’d fit: If the Ravens want to find a replacement for tight end Hayden Hurst and add speed to their receiving corps, why not bet on a prospect who could grow into either role? In an attention-grabbing combine performance, the 6-4, 238-pound Claypool finished in the 86th percentile or better among wide receivers with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, 40½-inch vertical jump and 19 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.
Claypool shared the spotlight last season with current Raven Miles Boykin, a wide receiver he’s often compared to, before turning in a dominant senior year (66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns). The British Columbia native impressed on contested-catch opportunities, where his toughness and catch radius are obvious, and added value as a run blocker and special teams contributor.
Why he might not: If Claypool’s going to make it as a wide receiver, he has to show he can separate with more than just his size and speed. (Boykin learned that lesson as a rookie.) Strong cornerbacks won’t hesitate to jam him at the line of scrimmage.
If Claypool’s going to make it as a tight end, he’ll probably have to put on weight and prove his in-line blocking skills. And to make it at either position, his hands must be more consistent.
Texas Christian’s Jalen Reagor (No. 1 overall)
Why he’d fit: In 2017, Reagor won Big 12 Conference Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors. In 2018, he had all the makings of a future top-10 pick. On a Horned Frogs offense that cycled through three quarterbacks, the 5-11, 206-pound Reagor finished with 72 catches for 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns. With his contributions as a runner and returner, he amassed over 1,400 all-purpose yards.
His father, Montae, played as a defensive tackle for nine seasons in the NFL, but Jalen has superstar potential. As a sophomore, Reagor regularly won battles for contested catches, and drops weren’t much of a problem. As a junior, his top speed on a 93-yard touchdown catch was clocked at over 22 mph — elite, even for the NFL. At the combine, he recorded the second-best vertical jump and broad jump among receivers. He has the acceleration to sell downfield routes and the quickness to win in space.
Why he might not: Reagor’s 2019 is a red flag. With wretched quarterback play — according to PFF, only 30.7% of his targets last season were considered accurate throws — Reagor’s production unsurprisingly suffered. He had just 43 catches for 611 yards and five touchdowns.
Reagor seemed to let TCU’s passing struggles affect his game at times. As a run blocker, he could be disengaged. After dropping just five catchable balls in 2018, Reagor had seven drops last year, according to PFF. And there’s still room for improvement elsewhere as a receiver, from his route diversity to his play strength.
Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk (No. 2)
Why he’d fit: Aiyuk was one of the nation’s most explosive receivers last year. In a 65-catch, 1,192-yard season, he stacked up chunk plays, with seven receptions of 50-plus yards (tied for third most in the country) and three receptions of 70-plus yards (tied for second most). His open-field ability was evident in his special teams production, too, taking back a punt for a touchdown and averaging nearly 32 yards on kickoff returns.
The 6-0, 205-pound Aiyuk has an 81-inch wingspan — almost as big as 6-5 Calvin Johnson’s — and comes out of his breaks with impressive speed. With only two years of Division I experience, the former junior-college recruit still has plenty of room for development.
Why he might not: Aiyuk has the quick feet to develop into a great route runner, but the Sun Devils kept it mostly simple for him last year. Nearly half of his targets, according to PFF, came on go routes and screens. Whether Aiyuk projects as an outside or slot receiver, he’ll need to show he can win at the line of scrimmage and on contested-catch opportunities more often.
Medical concerns have also emerged this offseason. He failed a physical at the Senior Bowl, recovered in time to participate at the combine, then reportedly underwent core-muscle surgery Tuesday.
Baylor’s Denzel Mims (No. 4)
Why he’d fit: Mims consistently produced in the Bears’ pass-happy attack, posting nearly 3,000 yards over three seasons and drawing attention for his highlight-reel sideline and red-zone catches. And maybe no receiver has had a better predraft process.
He was almost unguardable at the Senior Bowl, beating cornerbacks with execution on his releases and routes rarely seen at Baylor. At the combine, the 6-3, 207-pound Mims showed elite speed (4.38-second 40-yard dash), explosiveness (fourth-best broad jump among receivers) and agility (position-best three-cone drill). With his athletic profile, awesome catch radius and eagerness to pancake defenders as a blocker, he can win along the sideline on play after play.
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Why he might not: Before his Senior Bowl performance, Mims’ fairly static development since a 1,087-yard sophomore season was cause for concern. He had 794 yards in 2018 and 1,015 last year, with a career-high 66 catches and 12 touchdowns.
For all of his circus plays, Mims had lapses in concentration on simpler opportunities. He dropped 11 catchable passes in 2018, according to PFF, and seven last year. And while his deep speed is a weapon, creating opportunities on go and stop routes, he didn’t show great suddenness to get open laterally or elude defenders in the open field last season.
Penn State’s KJ Hamler (No. 8)
Why he’d fit: Eager to build a track team around quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens targeted speed on offense in last year’s draft. Had Hamler not tweaked a hamstring in training, the former track and field star would have challenged Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III for the combine’s fastest overall 40-yard dash (4.27 seconds).
Hamler’s quick-twitch athleticism makes him a menace on offense and special teams. He finished with 904 receiving yards last season (16.1 per catch), including eight touchdowns, and had five games with at least a 40-yard reception. On both catch-and-runs and vertical routes, Hamler flew past Big Ten Conference defensive backs as if they were standing still. In 2018, he earned all-conference honorable mention as a returner.
Why he might not: If Hamler remains a slot receiver, where he played almost exclusively at Penn State, getting open shouldn’t be a problem. It’s what comes next that’s most worrisome. Despite average hand size, Hamler had 12 drops on 70 catchable passes last season, according to PFF; his career drop rate is a woeful 16.9%.
At the combine, Hamler measured in at 5-9, 178 pounds — 12 pounds heavier than Brown did last year, but still far from sturdy. Run blocking will be an uphill battle, and quarterbacks targeting Hamler have a smaller throwing window with his limited wingspan.