After a disappointing playoff exit where multiple wide receivers failed to make any impact on the game, Eric DeCosta added very talented weapons for Lamar Jackson in the 2020 NFL Draft. In addition to the future for the Ravens at running back in J.K. Dobbins, two ultra-productive receivers in James Proche and Devin Duvernay will have a chance to immediately produce within youthful crop of wide receivers.
Duvernay’s speed paired with his hard-nosed running will give him opportunities to be more than a traditional wide receiver. Duvernay adds value as a runner on jet sweeps and even out of the backfield. He also has superb hands and rarely dropped passes while at Texas.
The other receiver in the draft class, James Proche, I believe has the tools to take away snaps from the incumbent No. 2 receiver, Miles Boykin. Proche’s extremely reliable hands already puts him a step above a number of receivers in a crowded depth chart. Should Proche continue where he left off while at SMU and continue producing at a high level, he may end up being the sidekick to Marquise Brown.
So how will the addition of these two receivers propel Lamar Jackson’s stardom even further? Well first, let’s take a look at Jackson’s tendencies as a passer.
OC Greg Roman had Jackson run the offense very efficiently. With the ground-and-pound running game being the centerpiece of the offense, great success ensued as many defenses weren't used to defending the run during the entire duration of the game. When Jackson threw, he threw in a calculated manner. That’s where TE Mark Andrews and TE Nick Boyle were so crucial.
Rather than throwing downfield and past the sticks to his receivers like many other quarterbacks do, Jackson settled for the guaranteed six-to-eight yard threshold in the middle of the field. This means that if a first-down run went for five yards, Jackson focused on getting the first down before attempting to make any chunk plays. With the threat of the Ravens’ running backs, Jackson’s legs, and the track-like speed of Brown on the outside, soft spots over the middle were found and exploited by Jackson. Positive gains and a structural flow allowed for Jackson to find success both running and throwing the football.
What Jackson needs to improve on is throwing to the outside to his wide receivers. A little disclaimer that I should really include is that besides Marquise Brown, who essentially played on one foot, Jackson did not have the benefit of a talented group of wide receivers. With two young rookies at the time in Brown and Boykin in addition to a mediocre Seth Roberts and an above-average Willie Snead working the slot, I’m not surprised that Jackson relied on his tight ends as much as he did. However, Andrews was consistently on the injury report towards the end of the season and filed to perform at a high level down the stretch.
DeCosta recognized this and drafted two receivers who have the potential to be immediate producers. Both Proche and Duvernay, as they gain further exposure to the life of an NFL wide receiver, can be essential pieces to the Ravens offense.
Although expectations for Boykin remain high as he enters his second season, I’m not fully convinced that he will take the next step in becoming a reliable second receiver. I feel that both Duvernay and Proche have more consistent hands than Boykin and a better knack for creating space and getting open. Don’t be surprised to find either Duvernay or Proche as the second or third receivers on the depth chart come Week 1.
Now stocked with a young yet talented wide receiving corps, it is still entirely up to our franchise quarterback to trust his arm and make outside throws.