The 2011 Baltimore Raven's passing offense will look decidedly different than the 2010 variety. Gone are productive veterans like Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, and LeRon McClain. Gone are stopgap players like T.J. Houshmandazeh and Donte Stallworth. Instead the offense will prominently feature talented young tight ends and wide receivers like Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith, David Reed, Tandon Doss and others. Assuming the Ravens don't make another move for a receiver before the start of the season, one serious question fans and team personnel should be asking is "where will the passing production come from in 2011?"
While it is true that Joe Flacco will still be under center, every pass has two parts, and for Joe to complete passes someone must be there to catch the ball. In 2010, the Ravens were ranked 20th in the NFL in passing yards per game. Fans may argue about the importance of the passing game vs. the run, but unfortunately the Ravens ranked 22nd in total yards per game and 16th in total points per game. Regardless of how you expect the team to perform as a whole in 2011, improving on these middle-of-the-pack numbers would be provide a significant boost to the team's chances come January. Here is a list of who caught passes for the Ravens in 2010:
With several of these producers leaving for other squads this offseason, someone will have to step in and provide opportunities for Flacco to throw the ball to. At this point, it's impossible to say who or to what extent the young receivers will play a role in the 2011 passing attack. However, it can't hurt to make some guesses. In the last 3 years, only 3 rookies have surpassed 800 receiving yards: Mike Williams (2010), Eddie Royal (2008), and DeSean Jackson (2008). None have surpassed 1,000 yards in their rookie campaigns. Anticipating such a year from anyone currently on the Raven's roster would be foolish.
I can imagine a scenario where several players could get chances to perform at WR opposite Anquan Boldin. T. Smith, D. Reed, Doss, and others are likely to have opportunities to make plays this year. However, I see no reason to expect any of them to approach even 800 yards this season. As for TE, I think a realistic expectation is for the dual threat of Dickson and Pitta to approximately equal the TE production gained from Todd Heap last year. While it is possible they could outperform Heap, expecting this might be a bit unreasonable. While obviously things could turn out many different ways, here is what I consider a reasonable expectation for the players involved in the passing game for 2011:
Without a proven #2 option at WR, I expect Boldin to receive more attention from opposing DBs. I imagine his looks will improve which will increase his numbers slightly, but I wouldn't anticipate a breakout performance. Rice will still get his chances as well, and I consider it likely that he will be utilized a little more than last year. Again, nothing significantly different about his numbers.
What is frightening is that beyond the two veteran standouts, production in the passing game drops off significantly from last season. The hypothetical totals are actually worse than in 2010. If this is a reasonable estimate of our passing production in 2011, this team will struggle to score points, and will have trouble making a deep run in the playoffs unless the defense plays similarly to its 2000 form. In the end, one of our young players will need to step up and perform at an unexpected level if this team wishes to hold its own on offense in 2011.