The Baltimore Ravens entered the 2017 offseason in need of a wide receiver to replace Steve Smith. Despite much speculation, general manager Ozzie Newsome decided against using any of his seven draft picks on a pass catcher. Instead, the Ravens lured able veteran Jeremy Maclin.
The stars aligned for Baltimore and Maclin. To have a productive player who perfectly fits a crucial need become available in June was certainly fortuitous. Still, supplying the position through free agency instead of the draft is the best roster construction strategy for the Ravens. Three reasons why ...
1. Team history
Torrey Smith is honestly the only wide receiver Baltimore has drafted in the last twenty years who outproduced his draft slot. And the misfortune is not due to a lack of investment. For whatever reason, the team has not had as much draft success with receivers as they have had at literally every other position.
Furthermore, wide receiver has arguably been the Ravens most successful positions in free agency. In terms of yards per game in franchise history, the entire top five ever acquired by Newsome have been veterans. Qadry Ismail, Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith and Mike Wallace.
2. Bust rate
Combine the Ravens draft history with the league wide uncertainty and addressing receiver in free agency is clearly the safer play. Especially for a team who is hoping to contend every season and seeks immediate impact.
3. Positional Value
While the evolution of football at the collegiate level has produced a shortage of quality offensive lineman, it has also provided a surplus of quality receivers. Seemingly every draft is loaded with hyped pass catchers. At least fifteen starting caliber wideouts changed teams this offseason. Next offseason will feature the outstanding 2014 receiver class, with as many as ten exciting young playmakers currently slated to hit the open market.
Pro Bowl caliber veteran receivers such as Terrelle Pryor, Julian Edelman Jeremy Maclin and Brandon Marshall agreed to $6 million or less per year on short term contracts this offseason. The best players at other positions who were available on similar contracts were Lawrence Timmons, J.C. Tretter, Chris Baker and Latavius Murray. A strong case can be made that aging pass catchers looking to cement their legacy present the best value of any position in free agency.
Lastly, recent Super Bowl history has proven champions do not need elite receivers to hoist the Lombardi trophy. Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, A.J. Green and Dez Bryant are the unanimous number one wideouts in the league. They have zero rings between them.
In the age of hyper salary cap inflation, the most sensible strategy is absolutely to continue stocking the roster with proven free agent wide receivers.