If there’s going to be an NFL season this year, it’ll have to start in training camp.
After an offseason upended by the coronavirus pandemic, the Ravens are scheduled to report to Owings Mills by July 28 for their first team workout of 2020. Beyond that, little is known about the lead-up to their Sept. 13 season opener.
The NFL and the Ravens still have to figure it all out. But as practice nears, The Baltimore Sun will take a position-by-position look at the Ravens’ roster. Today, the team’s wide receiver situation is analyzed.
Marquise Brown: No Raven has created more offseason buzz than the team’s 2019 first-round pick, who’s tantalized the internet with creative workouts and promises of pristine health in 2020. Brown made an impact as a rookie, even as he played through injuries. If he takes the leap he and others expect, he’ll add an exciting dimension to one of the league’s best offenses.
Willie Snead IV: The veteran slot receiver signed a one-year extension with the Ravens despite the fact he was targeted just 46 times in 2019. Snead is a willing blocker and a physically tough player with reliable hands, so he fits the team’s profile, even if his numbers in Baltimore will never approach those he posted in New Orleans.
Miles Boykin: The former third-round pick out of Notre Dame made a powerful impression during training camp last season, only to go quiet for much of the regular season. Few receivers can match Boykin’s size-speed combo, but he’s focused on playing less tentatively in 2020. The Ravens don’t have another obvious outside threat, so they’ll count on Boykin to step forward.
Chris Moore: The special-teams standout entered 2019 with designs on starting at wide receiver only to finish the season with a career-low five targets. Despite that disappointment, Moore signed a one-year deal with the Ravens in March.
Jaleel Scott: The former fourth-round pick came on strong late in preseason to seize a spot on the Ravens’ 53-man roster but saw action in just three games. The 6-foot-5 Scott is an outside target, which the Ravens need, but he’s running out of time to assert himself.
Antoine Wesley: After a highly productive career at Texas Tech, Wesley stuck on the Ravens’ practice squad in 2019. He’s another tall receiver who made occasional spectacular catches in practice, but he’d have to pass a long list of players to earn a roster spot.
Devin Duvernay: Coach John Harbaugh was thrilled to get this speedy, productive wide receiver from Texas with a late third-round pick. Duvernay is built like a running back and catches everything, but he did most of his work from the slot in college, and it remains to be seen if he can get open downfield in the NFL.
James Proche: The Ravens moved up on day three of the draft to take this prolific wide receiver out of SMU. Proche’s exceptional hands and potential as a kick returner could make him a better candidate than most sixth-round picks to earn immediate playing time.
Michael Dereus: The Ravens signed the former Georgetown star as an undrafted free agent.
Jaylon Moore: The Ravens signed this Tennessee-Martin product as an undrafted free agent. He’s a 6-foot-2 former sprinter and hurdler.
What to watch
Every year, it seems, the Ravens go into the offseason seeking more production from their wide receivers. That was the case again in 2020 after the team dropped an uncharacteristic six passes in a dispiriting playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Between their historically productive running attack and their heavy reliance on tight ends, the Ravens depend less on wide receivers than almost any team in the league. But they still hope for more from this group as they look to diversify their offense. Over the last two years, they’ve used a first-round pick and two third-round picks on receivers. Now, they’re looking for commensurate production.
Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta have said they expect significant second-year jumps from Brown and Boykin. If Brown sustains his good health, he could thrive as quarterback Lamar Jackson’s chief big-play target. If Boykin plays more assertively, he could give the Ravens the outside target they lacked in 2019.
Duvernay will fit the “speed kills” theme as a vertical threat out of the slot with the power to break tackles after the catch.
“I’m just excited about our weapons on offense,” Harbaugh said. “We have speed, tough guys, very determined guys, and we’re trying to build something as explosive as we possibly can.”
The idea of adding consistent deep and outside strikes to an offense that already led the league in rushing and passing efficiency should terrify opposing coaches. But that’s what Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman hope to do with the young crew of sprinters they’ve assembled around Jackson.
Brown will attract as much outside attention as anyone on the team other than Jackson. That process has already begun, with fantasy analysts touting him as one of the season’s prime breakout candidates.
How much better will the second-year wideout look if he was truly as hampered by foot and ankle injuries as he and Ravens coaches have indicated?
Brown was regarded as the top deep threat in the class of 2019, and the stories of his speed coming out of Oklahoma sounded like folk tales. He gave a glimpse of that dynamism when he broke 47- and 83-yard touchdowns on his first two NFL catches. He was again the team’s scariest pass catcher in the playoff loss to the Titans.
But over the four months in between, the man known as “Hollywood” missed two games and served as little more than a decoy for long stretches of others.
Brown is the most tantalizing receiving prospect in team history. Now, he must show he can hold up to the NFL grind.
Beyond better health, Brown has another major factor going for him as he tries to build on that rookie performance. He and Jackson have formed one of the closest friendships on the team, and that means the MVP quarterback will be fully invested in unlocking his potential.
The Ravens carried six wide receivers on their 53-man roster in 2019, and it’s hard to see them going beyond that this season.
Brown, Snead, Boykin, Duvernay and Proche seem like locks to claim spots with Chris Moore also likely to make it because of his importance on special teams. That means Scott will be hard pressed to retain his place on the roster.
He could be a candidate for the team’s expanded practice squad, along with Wesley and the undrafted free agents. But Scott’s size could also make him a target for another team looking to take a flyer at the position.