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Thursday, December 08, 2022

What do the Ravens need on wide receiver? It depends on what they already have. , Analysis

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After the trade that returned the Ravens’ wide receivers group to that oh-so-familiar offseason zone — more potential than production, more questions than answers — Eric DeCosta couldn’t resist a joke. The Ravens’ general manager traded Marquis “Hollywood” Brown for a first-round pick who became center Tyler Linderbaum. He was asked: Did the deal leave the team thin on wide receivers?

“I’ve been thinking about it, and I missed all the questions this year,” DeCosta said last month. “I was thinking, ‘I want to go back to the old days,’ you know?”

In the three weeks since, the Ravens have done nothing at wide receiver but have signed a handful of free agents and touted their youth group. DeCosta said the team expects a “big, big leap this year” from 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman. He called Devin DuVernay a “great young player”. James Proche II and Tylon Wallace were praised. There were reminders that the team already had All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews.

However, the wait for immediate help is on. Former Cleveland Browns standout Jarvis Landry, who joined the Ravens in free agency, signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints on Friday worth up to $6 million. Some impact wide receivers who persist have red flags: permanent injuries, durability concerns, low production. The Ravens, with limited salary cap space, continue to look for the right player at the right price.

“We like our receivers, we do,” DeCosta said after the draft. “We have seen development, we have seen our people mature and develop. …we’ll be adding players to the mix. We are doing that right now and we will see experienced players as well. It really wasn’t by design that we wanted to make a hole in the team. I don’t see it that way, but in this business, you pivot, you dodge, you weave — you’re always really chasing a need. Every team in the league will tell you that you are chasing the requirements.”

And what do the ravens need? It depends on what they think they have – and what they think they can still get.

run blocking

In early February, after the Ravens signed the right to tackle Morgan Moses, traded the Browns and drafted Linderbaum, DeCosta clarified the identity of the offense. “We are a running team,” he said in his season-ending news conference.

Not that anything has changed there. The Ravens led the NFL with Greg Roman in the first two years as offensive coordinator; Last season, weakened by a poor defense as well as injuries from quarterback Lamar Jackson, he finished third. The team’s run-first philosophy extends to its receivers. Coaches value strong run blockers not only in the trenches but also outside.

“Everybody wants to win, but most people want to win on their own terms,” ​​Harbaugh said at the end of the Ravens’ breakthrough 2018 season, when goals were scarce for top wide receivers John Brown, Willie Snead IV and Michael Crabtree. “These guys have put their terms a little off – a lot, maybe. They’re blocking. Hey, we’re going to go ahead and cut the back-side defensive ends with our wide receivers, and those guys do it. It is a difficult duty, but they have adopted it.”

In 2022, this could be the mandate for the post. The Ravens’ investment in tight ends and fullbacks – legends Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard and Andrews and rookies Charlie Kolar and Isaiah, if healthy, are all likely to make up a 53-man roster – giving Roman the flexibility to use two more Should—and a three-tight-end grouping next season. That would mean less snap for the Ravens’ wide receiver.

Better run blocking will help his aim. For what the Browns brought to the Ravens’ passing offense, he offered little in the run game. According to a review of the Ravens’ 38 designed runs, which went for 20-plus yards over the past two seasons, Brown was involved as a play-side blocker only a few times—partly because he How wide was the bar, far from the action. But when the Ravens ran back, for example, it was usually on the side of Miles Boykin. And in the slot, where Brown also saw time, DuVernay was far more effective at sealing second-tier defenders.

Such limitations and tendencies can make crime more predictable. With Boykin released and Sammy Watkins not re-signed, the Ravens will likely make do with a less impressive group of wideouts. According to Pro Football Focus, 6-foot-1 Bateman is the tallest of the team’s potential contributors, but last year had the worst run-blocking grade of any Ravens wide receiver. Both DuVernay and Proche are classified below backup levels. Wallace had the NFL’s best mark, but on a smaller sample size: He had just 26 run-blocking snaps, nine fewer than Proche.

With the versatile Landry unavailable, the free-agent class of receivers lack reliable run blockers. Former Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans wideout Julio Jones has a solid track record and good shape at 6-3, but injuries have limited him to 19 games over the past two years.

downfield capability

The Ravens lost more than their most productive wide receiver when he traded the Browns. He also lost his only proven deep threat on the situation.

According to SportsInfo Solutions, last season only seven NFL wide receivers targeted more passes of at least 20 air yards than Brown (28). In 2020 (25 goals) there were only five. Brown has led the Ravens over the past two years with 464 receiving yards on deep throws, even though his overall efficiency (13 catches on 53 goals) was lacking.

At Andrews, the Ravens still have the best field-stretching tight end in the league. Targeted 19 times for throws at least 20 yards downfield last season—the most ever in NFL tight ends—he caught eight for 246 yards. But the drop-off after Brown and Andrews is staggering.

Bateman, who has good pace (4.43-second 40-yard dash), if not game-breaking pace, had four catches on eight deep throws for 131 yards in his injury-free rookie season. DuVernay and Proche recorded a catch of at least 20 yards in their first two seasons in Baltimore, with DuVernay seeing four such goals and Proche two. Wallace did not get a downfield shot in 2021.

The Ravens’ play-action game will give Jackson big opportunities, but he’ll need another home threat. It may have been Bateman who, as a sophomore in Minnesota, finished eighth in the Football Bowl subdivision in yards per catch (20.3). It could be Wallace, who feasted on jump-ball opportunities at Oklahoma State. It could be DuVernay, already one of the NFL’s best returners and one of the team’s fastest players. It could be a mix of all three, proche and rookie tight ends.

It could even be Will Fuller V. The 2016 first-round pick averaged a career-high 16.6 yards per catch in 2020, when he finished with 879 yards in just 11 games for the Houston Texans. But injuries remain a concern; The speedster broke his thumb in Week 4 last season and ended his lone year with the Miami Dolphins with only four catches for 26 yards. In February he shared on instagram A photograph of his left hand, wrapped in a bandage, with a clear bandage on his left middle finger. “Dang finger man,” Fuller wrote in the caption of the since-deleted photo.

alignment

The Ravens are not rigid in their wide receiver roles. Wideouts are expected to move from place to place. Flexibility on offense is as important as it is on defense. “I don’t think we really have an ‘slot’ player or an ‘outside’ player,” Harbaugh said after DuVernay and Proche were drafted by the Ravens in 2020.

This is not to say that their use of receivers is random. Each formation and personnel group has its own purpose. But with Brown out of the picture, the Ravens will have to sort out their receiver rotation not only inside but also outside.

According to SIS, Brown only surpassed Andrews in routes running from the slot last year (332). DuVernay was second (216), followed by Proche (141), Bateman (112) and Wallace (31). Brown saw less time as an outside receiver (263 runs), but still only Bateman (273) lined up more often. Of the Ravens’ returning receivers, only DuVernay (121) earned a regular outside snap.

Bateman, who was most productive in the Outer Alignment in Minnesota, will likely appear there as the Ravens’ top choice. But who will be his running mate on the other hand? DuVernay has been more efficient when lined up in the slot, although he can evolve into an outside role with more experience. Wallace, who lined up almost exclusively as an outside receiver at Oklahoma State, saw more time during training camp and games. And Proche, the youngest of the Ravens’ top wide receivers, lined up almost exclusively in the slot.

This is not a question that demands an answer. The Ravens used at least three wideouts in more than half of their plays last season, but they would not line up with two wide receivers outside the numbers on every play. They can clearly flex Andrews or a running back in passing downs. They may rely more on bunch structures, which reduce the division of their receivers.

Or they can get a more beginner level wide receiver anyway. He has four months to figure out these things.

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