INDIANAPOLIS — Torrey Smith was the one who delivered. Stefon Diggs was the one who was ignored. DJ Moore could be the one who changes the narrative.
The Ravens’ tortured history in drafting and developing wide receivers, long the blemish on general manager Ozzie Newsome’s widely celebrated resume, could be summed up in the recent tales of three Maryland Terps.
Smith, a second-round draft pick in 2011, was the most productive of the 25 receivers the Ravens have ever drafted with 213 catches, 3,591 receiving yards and 30 touchdown catches over four seasons with the Ravens. The Ravens had six chances to select Diggs in 2015 before the Minnesota Vikings took him in the fifth round, and he’s since become one of the NFL’s best young receivers. Ravens fans are hoping Moore doesn’t slip through the team’s grasp.
Moore said Friday at the NFL scouting combine that he’s been inundated with Twitter messages from Ravens fans who hope he begins his professional career not far north of where he starred in college. He’s also heard from Smith and Diggs, who have offered guidance and support.
“Just gives me light because I talk to both of them,” Moore said. “They said [to] enjoy the process and just continue doing what I’m doing, working hard. The NFL is something you have to do every day.”
Moore, the 2017 Big Ten Receiver of the Year, said he was advised by the NFL’s College Advisory Committee to stay in school after he racked up 80 catches for 1,033 yards and had nine total touchdowns while dealing with a revolving door of Maryland quarterbacks in 2017. He made himself eligible for the draft anyway and he’s now considered a likely second-round pick.
He is part of a receiver class that is deep but lacks stars, and will provide another test for NFL personnel departments that have struggled in recent years to properly evaluate the draft’s top pass catchers.
“It’s like anything. You learn from the good things you do, but you really learn from your failures,” Newsome said Friday on his organization’s struggles with unearthing receiver talent. “I was just in a discussion before I came here with [assistant general manager Eric DeCosta] on some ideas, so we’re continually trying to study why and why not. Hopefully it will get us to the point where we can have more success with bringing receivers in, because we’ve had success bringing guys in as free agents. There’s no doubt about that.”
The Ravens’ litany of draft misses at receiver include first-round disappointments Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton and Breshad Perriman, and mid-round misses Devard Darling, Demetrius Williams, Yamon Figurs, Marcus Smith and David Reed. More recently, the Ravens have taken seven total receivers in the past six drafts and only two were on an NFL roster in 2017 and only one (Perriman) have had more than 20 catches in an NFL season.
Perriman has just 43 catches for 576 yards and three touchdown receptions in three seasons since being taken in the first round in 2015, and he was a healthy scratch for four of the Ravens’ final seven games last year at a time when the team was getting little production at receiver. Newsome acknowledged Friday that Perriman is entering a “make-or-break” summer with the Ravens.
His minuscule impact has prompted calls for the Ravens to alter how they go about scouting receivers and to put more of a premium in qualities other than size and straight-line speed.
“I’ve always wanted guys that can catch. When you look at any position, to me, there’s a deal-breaker,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, not speaking specifically about Perriman but on the perception that the organization is changing how they prioritize certain qualities with receivers. “There’s a No. 1 element, a necessity at every position, and then there’s other things that are important, too. A receiver has to be able to catch. This is not anything that’s going to be revolutionary, but I think you can lose sight of all that sometimes.”
Projecting receivers certainly isn’t just a Ravens problem. It’s been a popular topic in Indianapolis over the past week after last year’s three first-round receivers — the Tennessee Titans’ Corey Davis, Los Angeles Chargers’ Mike Williams and Cincinnati Bengals’ John Ross — made limited impacts as rookies, while later picks, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster and the Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp, both shined.
Since the star-studded 2014 first-round class that produced Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin, 13 receivers have been taken in the first round and only Amari Cooper, the fourth overall pick in 2015, has made a Pro Bowl team.
“The one thing that’s changed is receivers at the college level do not see a whole lot of man coverage, so you have to project a little bit at this level,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. “Can a receiver get in and out of a break? Can he separate from tight man coverage, which they will get a lot at this level? Those are things we have to project.”
Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider was more succinct, saying: “They don't know how to run routes. … It's very hard for them to come in and it's not necessarily the kid's fault. It's not necessarily anyone's fault. You have very, very creative college coaches. Look at the guys who are kicking butt, right? There aren't a lot of guys running traditional pro schemes, and let's go play.”
No organization has had more success in drafting receivers than the Steelers, particularly in the middle-to-later rounds. Over the past nine drafts, they’ve found Smith-Schuster in the second round, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders in the third, Martavis Bryant in the fourth and Antonio Brown in the sixth.
“You want big and fast, the ability to get in and out of a break, the ability to catch the ball in competitive situations, the ability to run after the catch, and the ability to block,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “It’s really not that complicated when you boil it down. They come in all different sizes and shapes and they have different talents that make them unique among themselves. But there’s really not one specific pattern we look for.”
This year’s class features receivers of all shapes and sizes. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley is considered the best receiver and most polished route runner in the draft and the only first-round lock. Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk is the prototypical slot receiver. Southern Methodist’s Courtland Sutton is the jump-ball king and LSU’s D.J. Chark is the burner.
Moore, meanwhile, feels that he offers a little of everything. The 6-foot, 210-pound receiver certainly helped himself Saturday by posting a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. The time prompted former NFL executive Gil Brandt, now an analyst for SiriusXM and NFL.com, to write on his Twitter account that Moore “might be best WR in this draft when all is said, done.”
“Once the ball gets in my hands, I just become a different person, like a playmaker,” Moore said in describing himself as a receiver. “Just go out there and make the plays that are out there, find the seams in the defense and just go make a play out of it.”
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Newsome said Friday that the Ravens would leave “no stones unturned” in rebuilding their receiver corps. He might not have to go too far to find a pass catcher that could end the team’s long draft drought at the position.
- Baltimore Ravens
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Los Angeles Chargers
- NFL Pro Bowl
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Minnesota Vikings
- Seattle Seahawks
- Tennessee Titans
- Eric DeCosta
- David Reed
- Torrey Smith
- Antonio Brown
- Devard Darling
- Yamon Figurs
- Emmanuel Sanders
- Marcus Smith
- Demetrius Williams
- Mike Williams, (wide receiver, born 1984)