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How big of a need is the wide receiver position for the 2016 Baltimore Ravens?

The Ravens have made Joe Flacco the highest paid player in the NFL for the second time in four years with a contract extension that includes an NFL record $40 million signing bonus. There are two opposing schools of the thought on how to build the roster around him. The first is to surround the quarterback with top weapons to build an explosive offense. The second option is to allow Flacco to earn his keep by providing an offensive output that wins games without heavy investment in the offensive skill positions.

AP Photo/Gail Burton

The Ravens finished the 2015 regular season with the eight best passing offense in the NFL.  This ranking was boosted by attempting the most passes in the league under offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.  This statistic was held down by several devastating injuries that included the franchise quarterback missing the final five games of the season, the #1 wide receiver missing nine total games and the projected #2 receiver missing all 16 games.

Ravens Wide Receivers

Steve Smith Sr. is expected to return for the start of the 2016 campaign from his Achilles injury.  Smith will be 37 years old in May but averaged 96 yards per game last season.  'Senior' may be the most competitive and passionate player in the entire NFL.  If anyone can produce at a high level coming off major injury at this advanced age, it is Smith.

2015 first round draft pick Breshard Perriman has yet to suit up for an NFL game after suffering a torn PCL knee injury.  Perriman has still not been cleared to resume football activity, but he is expected to be ready by the start of training camp.  The Ravens are excited to see his 6'2" frame and sub 4.3 speed on the field in 2016.

Kamar Aiken had a breakout season in 2015 with 75 receptions for 944 yards and five touchdowns.  Aiken is currently a restricted free agent, the Ravens will use either the low tender at $1.67 million, the second round tender at $2.55 million or a multi-year contract to retain his services.  Aiken is looking to solidify his standing with another strong performance in 2016.

The Ravens also have injured marred wide receiver Michael Campanaro, developing red zone target Darren Waller and practice squad candidate Cam Worthy under contract for 2016.  Adding even more depth to the wide receiver corps are the Ravens exclusive rights free agents, Jeremy Butler and Chris Matthews.  Butler made an impact with 30 receptions for 342 yards over the final eight games and Matthews caught seven balls including a touchdown from backup quarterback Ryan Mallett in the final two contests of the season.

These eight wideouts who are expected to return comprise one of the deepest wide receiving corps Joe Flacco has ever had at his disposal.  In addition to the wide receiver contingent, Flacco will have two emerging tight ends, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams along with above average receiving running backs Justin Forsett and Javorius Allen.

Of course, the quality of the offensive weapons is not assured.  Smith Sr. may lose a step after injury, Perriman is completely unproven and has an unpredictable injury.  The other pass catching options, including Aiken and Forsett are not completely proven commodities either.  It is notable that Flacco will be working with a proven passing oriented offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2012.

Planning for the future is always prudent and a succession plan at wide receiver is important since Smith Sr. is expected to play his final season next year.  But the Ravens also have many other important positions without a succession plan in place for 2017 and others without a clear starter for 2016.

As recent history has shown, elite wide receivers do a fine job of producing stats in the regular season, yet they do not produce wins in the cold playoff conditions.  Defense still wins championships and the Ravens defense has to improve in multiple facets in order for the Ravens to make a deep playoff run.

A case can be made that the Ravens are better served seeing what they can do with the receivers already on the roster for 2016.  This could allow the team to maximize their return on investment from Flacco's big contract while allocating the majority of their draft picks and remaining free agent dollars on a defense that needs a talent infusion.