I can’t believe we’re doing this again.
I can’t believe I’m writing about the Ravens and the wide receiver position AGAIN.
And we’re throwing everything up against the wall this time around, aren’t we? I’m paraphrasing, but here are a few examples of takes/responses I’ve seen on social media or via my radio show with Syreeta Hubbard on 105.7 The Fan.
“Wide receiver just isn’t that important because the Ravens don’t run the same type of offense as everyone else.”
“Mark Andrews is really a wide receiver anyway and he’s all you really need.”
“Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely are guys that operate in space so they could be used like wide receivers.”
“It’s not like Hollywood Brown was all that good anyway so they can make up for that easily.”
“Slade Bolden is really gonna surprise some folks!”
Let me attempt to dive in.
There are four wide receivers on the Ravens’ roster that have NFL experience. Those four (Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace) have combined for 1,227 career yards. Or as Cooper Kupp calls it, a pretty decent month.
When the Ravens traded away Hollywood Brown, I admitted that I understood the move and thought they did about as well as possible given the circumstances. But we couldn’t pretend like it didn’t create a massive problem with the construction of their roster. As talented as we might think the Ravens’ young receivers are, there is no definitive proof that they can be high-level players in the NFL.
Bateman in particular has the talent to become one of the great receivers in franchise history. But at the moment, Bateman would be in line to see the top coverage from every opponent as he tries to break through. Without a proven commodity on the other side of the field, the work is cut out for Bateman to establish himself as a true number one receiver in the league.
The idea that the Ravens should prioritize allowing their young receivers the opportunity to sink or swim is fair, to be sure. The problem is that there’s risk they’ll, you know, sink. That’s one of the two options. But even in a truly best case scenario in which Bateman is capable of becoming a top-notch NFL receiver and the others have something more significant to offer as pros, there’s still only four of them! Counting on this group in current form demands that there are no injuries to this core four during OTA’s, training camp, preseason games, 17 regular-season games and any postseason games.
The Ravens simply can’t be banking on these scenarios playing out perfectly as their definitive plan for winning the AFC North and trying to win the Super Bowl. That would be negligence of the highest order.
Jarvis Landry seemed like the safest bet of what was left on the free-agent market to be able to make some sort of impact. I don’t want to overreact to losing one player (who had two receiving touchdowns a year ago), but it’s hard to look at this situation with purple-colored glasses. We have to describe what’s facing the Ravens as what it is. It’s … it’s a damn crisis.
And I realize that we don’t like saying that because we truly believe the Ravens did a very nice job of selecting players during the NFL Draft. And there is an amount of truth to some of the things that are being said about the situation.
Yes, Mark Andrews is the team’s top pass catcher and if he stays healthy, he’ll likely be very productive and very helpful. Whether Andrews can replicate his insane 2021 season remains to be seen, but he’s of course a central focus in an offense. I’d like to think we know that one capable pass catcher alone does not an offense make.
Yes, it’s possible that an undrafted free agent (like Bolden) could help the cause. It’s an unreasonable assumption that any will, but it’s possible.
Yes, Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely have skill sets that can allow them to be more involved out wide and in space. It is similarly unreasonable for a team’s definitive plan at wide receiver to involve major contributions from two fourth-round tight ends, but it is … possible.
Yes, Hollywood Brown was not a true “No. 1” type of receiver and Landry absolutely would not have been able to replace his specific skill set anyway.
And yes, a Ravens offense with a better offensive line and healthy running backs (J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards specifically) would have a chance to be a bit more like the 2019 unit, which might require a bit less from receivers throughout the course of the year.
But we know better than this! We know that the Ravens may well find themselves trailing in games and needing to throw the ball more. We know that other injuries could hurt their ability to play the dominant brand of bully-ball that provided them such success in ’19. We know that they appeared reluctant to have Lamar Jackson run as much last year and it’s hard to fathom them dramatically changing that this year.
We know damn well that the Ravens are going to need their wide receivers to come through for them at some point if they’re going to try to win a Super Bowl!
We also know that the likes of Julio Jones, Will Fuller, T.Y. Hilton and Odell Beckham Jr. that remain on the market are far less than inspiring due to injuries and declining productivity. We know those players might prefer signing in more prolific passing situations anyway. We also know that trading for a star receiver could be problematic because the Ravens would have to give that player a top-dollar contract in addition to the compensation and even those players might balk at moving into a run-heavy offense.
There will be more players who are released. The Ravens have traditionally not done well with receiver signings this late in the offseason … but they have to do something! SOMETHING!
I would so truly prefer that we don’t have to have this conversation again next year.
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