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Is Mark Clayton a #1 Wide Receiver?

With the pending retirement of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason still undetermined, the Ravens are looking at a number of options, including moving 5th year veteran Mark Clayton from the #2 position into the leading role as the main target for second year QB Joe Flacco. Clayton had a good year as the #2 receiver in 2008 and after being Flacco's second option, is he ready to move up into the top slot?

The stats for #2 wideouts in the NFL varies from team to team, with a couple of teams having two guys who could easily be interchanged from the #1 to #2 spots on their team. Those teams focus their offenses on the passing game and therefore the stats pile up for the top two targets. The teams and players in that category include the Arizona Cardinals (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin), New England Patriots (Wes Welker, Randy Moss), Denver Broncos (Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal) and even the Green Bay Packers (Greg Jennings, Donald Driver). All these guys had either 90+ receptions or over 1,000 receiving yards and would be legitimate #1's on most other teams. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect that same sort of production from the Ravens #2 receiver, especially since the team is a run-first offense compared to those others which focus on the passing attack.

Therefore I looked at every other NFL team's receiving stats to see how Clayton measured up with his 41 receptions for 695 yards (17.0 average) and three receiving TD's. Here's what I found out:

Clayton's total of 41 catches ranks in the bottom third of the league's #2 receivers, while his total receiving yards rank in the top third, which explains his 17.0 yards per reception, easily the best of ANY #2 receiver on the list, including Anquan Boldin (11.7), Randy Moss (14.6) or Eddie Royal (10.8). His TD total is right in line with the other #2's, which range froma high of eleven (Boldin, Moss) to a low of zero (Seattle Seahawk Bobby Engram, who had 47 receptions for 489 yards). Compared to most of these players on my list, the ones with better stats than Clayton come from teams which ran the ball significantly less than the Ravens, who led the NFL in rushing attempts with 592 (only six other teams had more than 500 rushing attempts in 2008), and therefore those other teams had more chances to garner the additional receptions and other stats. Teams that normally focus on the run (more than 500 attempts) included the Atlanta Falcons (560 attempts), Minnesota Vikings (519), New England Patriots (513), Tennessee Titans (508), Carolina Panthers (504) and the New York Giants (502). The Patriots were a surprising team on this list but because of their prolific offense and passing attack, had so many more passing attempts than any of these running teams as well.

Looking at those top six running teams along with Baltimore (other than New England), the others' #2 receivers' stats were right in the ballpark of what the Ravens' Clayton accummulated.  Here are those teams' stats for their #2 wide receivers compared to Clayton:

Name                                  Team             Rec.     Yards     Avg.     TD's

Mark Clayton                   Baltimore         41          695       17.0       3

Michael Jenkins              Atlanta              50          777       15.5      3

Bobby Wade                    Minnesota       53          645       12.2       2

Brandon Jones               Tennessee     41          449       16.0       1

Mushin Muhammad     Carolina            65          923       14.2      5

Amani Toomer                NY Giants        48          580       12.1      4

Only Muhammed, who was a #1 wideout in Chicago (and plays alongside of All Pro WR Steve Smith), boasts significantly better stats for a #2, and also noteworthy is the Giants' Toomer, who is still a free agent and has been mentioned as a possible target for the Ravens, but he will turn 35 years old at the beginning of this season.

So while it appears that Clayton is a very serviceable wide receiver who certainly seems to have great abilities to get yardage after the catch (as evidenced by his league high yards per reception among #2 wideouts) is he ready to make the jump from the second option to Flacco's main target? Of course, #1 receivers get more reads and passes thrown their way, so his stats would surely improve. The issue is that most Ravens fans are concerned about might not be whether or not Clayton can make that transition, it's whom among the others can adequately move into the #2, or even #3 slots behind him?

Today is the day the team is conducting its "private" tryouts with D.J. Hackett, Drew Bennett and supposedly two others whose names have not yet been released. We will know more after today and pending the outcome of the final decision from Derrick Mason, whom many believe will return for the 2009 season, this will determine the direction that the team chooses to go in regarding their receiving corps.