Generally speaking, it’s very hard to win in the NFL if you can’t produce talent on your own. Rather than throw money at free agents, the best teams all draft and develop their own stars. If you look at offseason spending over the past few years, you’ll see that the teams shelling out the most money in free agency are typically cellar dwellers. Consequently, the top teams typically round out the bottom in terms of free agency spending. Of course, spending significant money during free agency doesn’t inherently make a team bad, (although it usually does) but whiffing on draft picks and failing to develop players will certainly do the trick.
Though the Ravens are a relatively young franchise, they have gained a reputation as a defensive powerhouse. Because of names like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs (and countless others), the Ravens have been able to field some of the best defenses over the past few decades with homegrown talent. Without the key front office decisions to draft these players and a strong coaching system in place to develop said players, it’s pretty safe to say that the Baltimore defensive dynasty wouldn’t exist.
The same, however, can’t be said regarding the Ravens offenses over the years. Instead, their dysfunction is probably due in part to a lack of Baltimore-made talent. Though the team’s defensive studs over the years are aplenty, it only takes one hand to list the Ravens’ stars on the other side of the ball. While Todd Heap, Jamal Lewis, and Jonathan Ogden are certainly an exceptional bunch, one would think that a twenty-plus-year-old franchise would be able to claim more stars in its ranks, especially at wide receiver.
When the Ravens spent their 26th pick on Breshad Perriman in 2015 (their highest on a wide receiver since Mark Clayton at pick no. 22 in 2005), the plan was the develop the raw speedster into a productive receiver for years to come. With the team being devoid of a real number one receiver for years, the pick seemed like a godsend for lots of fans. But with Perriman sidelined on account of injury for his rookie year and a modest (yet somewhat promising) follow-up the next year, expectations have been tempered somewhat. However, fans still remain cautiously optimistic that the Ravens can develop Perriman into what he was drafted to be.
The problem is that this has never happened in Ravens history.
Over the course of 22 drafts, the Ravens have selected 24 wide receivers. Of those, seven were selected in the first three rounds, so it’s not like the team has refused to invest in the position. Unfortunately, none of those picks panned out thus far. Duds like Travis Taylor, Devard Darling, and Mark Clayton are just some of the notable Baltimore busts. Looking at the team’s draft history, not one receiver selected by the Ravens really became a noteworthy player. It seems as if one of the team’s biggest exports is incredibly pedestrian wide receivers.
Perhaps the franchise’s best receiving product to this day is Brandon Stokley, which says a lot about the quality of Baltimore receivers. Stokley, the team’s fourth round selection in 1999, enjoyed a long 14-year career, but was never able to transcend into a major threat on offense. Though he played for more than a decade, Stokley only started in 44 games and had only one season where he posted 1000 receiving yards or more than five touchdowns. The team’s next best receiver would likely be Torrey Smith, who, while having several shining moments with some clutch catches, has been pretty mediocre on the whole.
Why the Ravens struggle so much at the position is beyond me. The team’s wide receiver coaches over the past few years (Jim Hostler and Bobby Engram) have been capable and qualified. Recently, young Ravens receivers have also enjoyed the support of both veteran receivers (e.g., Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith) and an experienced quarterback in Joe Flacco.
But one simple and painful explanation might be that the Ravens front office simply isn’t good at identifying wide receiver talent. Though very few of the Baltimore receivers have been productive as members of the team they were drafted by, it’s even more telling that none have gone on to perform as better players for other teams. This gives me reason to believe that the blame isn’t on the coaches, but on the front office. With Ozzie Newsome as the general manager all of these years, the Ravens have never drafted a good receiver, and with such a long track record of failure, it’s really hard to chalk this dysfunction up to bad luck. To me, it appears on the surface as if something is systematically wrong with the way the team evaluates the position.
Perhaps the selection of Breshad Perriman was a change of course from previous drafts; a shakeup of sorts in the way that the Ravens look at wide receivers. Teeming with athleticism yet quite a raw prospect at the same time, Perriman was a lot different from any other receiver the Ravens had ever picked. Though a departure from the norm for the Ravens, his career started off a lot like some other Ravens receivers before him. Sidelined for all of his first season, longtime Ravens fans will remember how Clayton and Darling also suffered through their rookie years with injuries. Though things didn’t get much better for the latter two, there is a sense of optimism surrounding the former, with positive reports coming out of camp regarding Perriman’s progress.
At any rate, fans are hoping that Perriman can change the narrative and become a productive homegrown receiver. But after looking at the history books, it’s certainly going to be a hard trend to buck.