Last off-season, the Baltimore Ravens were coming off of an 8-8 year, with a disappointing offensive season. The passing game looked solid yardage-wise (4,317 passing yards), but quarterback Joe Flacco’s 20:15 touchdown-to-interception ratio wasn’t good at all. There were talks that the Ravens would address the receiver position to aid Flacco.
The Ravens only drafted two offensive players in the 2017 NFL Draft, San Diego State offensive lineman Nico Siragusa and Texas A&M offensive linemen Jermaine Eluemunor. Then, Flacco’s favorite target, tight end Dennis Pitta, went down with a hip injury that would ultimately end his career. Baltimore scrambled, signing wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back Danny Woodhead. Both players have had injury-plagued careers, but have shown their promising abilities when on the field.
Unfortunately for Baltimore, they wouldn’t pan out. In 2017, Maclin, 29, would only reel in 40 receptions, for 440 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He also missed four games due to injury. Woodhead, 33, caught 33 passes, for 200 yards and no touchdowns. He also missed eight games with a hamstring injury.
The Ravens cannot afford to bank on signing older free agents to better the team. They have to draft receivers and cannot neglect the offensive side of the football. However, this is nothing new within the organization. Often times, Baltimore will boost the strength of the defense, while banking on players on the back nine of their career to produce on offense.
It’s no knock on guys like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith Sr. All three were competitors, but not every older receiver is like them. Age is undefeated and Baltimore should look to grab a receiver or two in their first three selections to jump start the offense. Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton, Auden Tate, D.J. Moore and Christian Kirk will all be available in the first two rounds. Not to mention, tight ends Hayden Hurst, Mike Gesicki, Dallas Goedert, Mark Andrews and Will Dissly will all be on the board.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have shown the Ravens what they need to do in regards to drafting receivers. In 2010, the Steelers hit on Emmanuel Sanders (third round) and Antonio Brown (sixth round). They would also draft Markus Wheaton (2013, third round), Martavis Bryant (2014, fourth round) and Sammie Coates (2015, third round) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (2017, second round) in subsequent seasons.
With that being said, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams and others will have to step up. Perriman is entering his fourth NFL season and only has 576 receiving yards and three touchdown grabs as a first round pick in 2015. Moore had a better season in 2017, catching three touchdowns on 248 receiving yards. Boyle had 203 receiving yards and Williams had 86 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Mike Wallace, Benjamin Watson and Michael Campanaro are all set to hit free agency. This trio combined for 132 catches, 1,443 receiving yards and nine touchdown receptions. Though Watson, 37, was a pleasant surprise, Baltimore has to get younger and more explosive at receiver and tight end.
Baltimore cannot expect to improve in the receiving game if they don’t consistently add receiving help through the draft or by making a splash in free agency. Luckily for them, they have a chance to correct their mistakes in this year’s draft and with free agents. Free agents like Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins, John Brown and Paul Richardson could aid Baltimore’s barren receiving corps.
In order to address the issue through free agency, Baltimore will have to create cap space. Baltimore Beatdown’s own Logan Levy wrote in February how the Ravens could potentially free up $16.8 million in cap space by cutting Woodhead, Brandon Carr, Austin Howard, Lardarius Webb, Maclin and Albert McClellan. With these moves and a couple of re-structures in deals, Baltimore would be in a better position to add talent.
Lastly, Baltimore is going to have to have better play from Flacco. Despite having subpar receiving talent, he has to make the correct throws and often times he doesn’t do that. Despite his mediocre performance for the majority of the 2017 season, better receivers would have made plays for him and put the team in the playoffs.
With the receiving corps that the Ravens have put together in years past, many quarterbacks would struggle. The organization can only mask the deficiency in Flacco’s play by giving him better players to work with and they just haven’t done that yet. This year, Baltimore needs to get serious about adding talent around their franchise quarterback or the curtains could be closing for this iteration of the Ravens.