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Ravens position review: Wide receivers take small steps forward, but there’s still a big need

The Ravens enter the 2021 offseason with Marquise “Hollywood” Brown trending up, a young wide receiver room in need of development, and fans clamoring for a splashy addition. In other words, they’re right where they started the 2020 offseason.

As general manager Eric DeCosta cautioned last week, this might not be the offseason the Ravens pursue a No. 1 wide receiver in free agency, or even in the NFL draft. Which means improving one of the NFL’s least productive wide receiver corps could be an in-house job.

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In the fourth of a series of position reviews, The Baltimore Sun will examine the team’s wide receiver situation. Next up is offensive line.

2020 in review

In 2019, Ravens wide receivers finished last in the NFL with 1,419 receiving yards. In 2020, they returned Brown and Miles Boykin, both healthier and more seasoned; drafted Devin Duvernay and James Proche II, both prolific college receivers; and even added Dez Bryant. And the group still finished last in the NFL, albeit with improved production (1,729 yards).

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Quarterback Lamar Jackson’s regression as a passer didn’t help, and neither did a beat-up offensive line. But there were signs of progress out wide nonetheless. Brown finished the 2020 season with perhaps the best stretch of his career. Boykin improved on his rookie-year yardage and touchdown totals. And slot receiver Willie Snead IV bounced back with a solid season after an inconsistent 2019.

Depth chart

Marquise Brown

Skinny: The 2019 first-round pick finished 2020 with 58 catches on 100 targets for 769 yards and eight touchdowns, all career highs. Brown, whose recovery from a Lisfranc (foot) injury affected his rookie year, didn’t miss a game this past season, and he expects to get even healthier for 2021. An offseason of workouts with Jackson should improve their deep-ball chemistry.

Contract status: Brown is entering the third year of a four-year rookie contract, which has a $3.2 million salary cap hit in 2021. His deal has a fifth-year team option, but Brown’s also eligible for a contract extension after next season.

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Willie Snead IV

Skinny: Snead graded out as the Ravens’ second-best wide receiver and No. 66 overall in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He had 25 catches for 356 yards over their first nine games, but an ankle injury and coronavirus infection partly limited him to eight receptions for 76 yards over the rest of the regular season.

Contract status: Snead, 28, is a pending unrestricted free agent. Over three years in Baltimore, he has 126 catches for 1,422 yards and nine touchdowns.

Miles Boykin

Skinny: The 2019 third-round pick, a reliable blocker and developing route runner, held off Duvernay and Bryant to remain the Ravens’ top outside receiver after Brown. He finished with 19 catches on 33 targets for 266 yards and four touchdowns, all career highs.

Contract status: Boykin is entering the third year of a four-year rookie contract. His cap hit in 2021 will be $1.1 million.

Dez Bryant

Skinny: The former Dallas Cowboys star tried out for the Ravens during training camp, then again in October, when the team signed him to its practice squad. Bryant had a minimal impact on the field (six catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns), but teammates lauded his leadership and football IQ.

Contract status: Bryant, 32, is a pending unrestricted free agent. Before this past season, he hadn’t played since 2017.

Devin Duvernay

Skinny: The third-round pick from Texas had 20 catches on 26 targets for 201 yards and averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff return — fifth most in the NFL among qualifying players — as well as 11.5 yards per punt return. As a receiver, Duvernay’s average depth of target was just 6.2 yards, according to Pro-Football-Reference, one of the league’s shallowest rates for a wideout.

Contract status: Duvernay is entering the second year of a four-year rookie contract. His cap hit in 2021 will be $1 million.

James Proche II

Skinny: The sixth-round pick from Southern Methodist made his biggest impact as a sure-handed punt returner, averaging 8.6 yards per return before losing his job to Duvernay. Proche was targeted just three times in 14 games; he caught one pass for 14 yards and watched the other two get picked off by Pittsburgh Steelers defenders, both of them returned for a touchdown.

Contract status: Proche is entering the second year of a four-year rookie contract. His cap hit in 2021 will be $820,000.

Chris Moore

Skinny: Thigh and finger injuries limited Moore, who was re-signed last year for his special teams ability, to a career-low three games in 2020. He played just 14 offensive snaps and wasn’t targeted as a receiver once.

Contract status: Moore, 27, is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Offseason questions

1. Will the Ravens target a top wide receiver in free agency or the draft?

Last offseason, the Buffalo Bills traded for wide receiver Stefon Diggs and watched Josh Allen transform from a golden-armed question mark (58.8% accuracy, 20 touchdowns) into an All-Pro performer (69.2% accuracy, 37 touchdowns). The Ravens, meanwhile, invested in even more young receivers and watched Jackson’s NFL Most Valuable Player form disappear at times, his accuracy falling to 64.4% while his interception and sack rates rose.

With the way the Ravens’ season ended in Buffalo, there’s renewed pressure on the front office to go find Jackson more help. This would be the offseason to do it. Because of the NFL’s shrinking salary cap, standout wide receivers like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay are expected to reach free agency. And in the draft, there might be even more talent available than in last year’s stacked wide receiver class.

Whether the Ravens will look for help in either pool is another matter. Asked about improving the team’s passing game, DeCosta said at his season-ending news conference, “It’s not all about getting the No. 1 receiver that everybody likes to talk about.” Days earlier, coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the value of having a physical wide receiver but said that it “kind of comes down to who you can get, and what they’re going to cost in the end, and who wants to be here.”

2. What does the next step for Marquise Brown look like?

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Brown ended his second season with a stretch that, considering the Ravens’ run-heavy tendencies, was among the NFL’s most efficient for a receiver. He got open downfield. He made catches outside the numbers. He turned quick-hitting throws into catch-and-run highlights. He looked more and more like the game-breaking threat he was at Oklahoma.

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Brown has made clear his desire for a more balanced offense in Baltimore, but he can still be a dangerous weapon within coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme. He’ll need more presnap motion, more opportunities in space and improved accuracy downfield from Jackson. The Ravens will need a better Brown, too: surer hands, better balance after the catch and a greater willingness to fight for 50-50 balls.

3. Which of the Ravens’ young receivers will step up?

With two years left on his rookie contract, Boykin isn’t exactly running out of time to secure his NFL future. But the Ravens need more from the former Notre Dame star, who had three games this past season (postseason included) without a catch and another eight with just one reception. Jackson and Boykin still seem to lack chemistry, with some of Boykin’s best routes looked off. Getting them together for a normal offseason program should only help.

Considering Snead’s uncertain future in Baltimore, the Ravens might also have to find their next slot receiver. Duvernay has field-stretching speed and open-field elusiveness, but his best routes as a rookie were vertical. Proche, meanwhile, is a polished route runner who’s somewhat limited athletically. Importantly, both have good hands, an underrated ability considering Jackson’s tendency to throw over the middle.

Possible additions

This year’s free-agent class has more proven commodities than the draft, but the cost will be significantly higher. In addition to Robinson, Godwin and Golladay, the Ravens could target JuJu Smith-Schuster, Curtis Samuel, Corey Davis, Will Fuller V, Marvin Jones Jr., A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton, among others. Even Antonio Brown might hit the open market — again.

In the draft, Florida’s Kadarius Toney, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman and LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. have already been linked to the Ravens’ No. 27 overall draft pick. A handful of others, like USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace and Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt, could be available on Day 2.

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