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2021 NFL Draft Love/Hate: Pass Catchers

From a Ravens perspective

Central Michigan at Miami Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

With the first wave of free agency officially complete, the focus has shifted to the next phase of the NFL offseason, the 2021 NFL draft that will begin on April 29th.

Between coronavirus opt-outs and the lack of a traditional scouting combine, evaluating the prospects available in this unique draft cycle has been a challenge. NFL front offices always arrange their individual draft boards differently and this class will likely include even less consensus that usual.

Due to various schematic preferences, targeted skillset needs and the potential for players to be overrated or underrated by media members, there could be dramatic variance on draft day.

We begin this four part series by exploring pass catchers that would be superb and less than ideal fits for the Baltimore Ravens.

Wide Receiver:

Love -

Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

Michigan v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The fringe first rounder put up 2,395 receiving yards, caught 147 passes, scored 19 touchdowns and averaged 16.3 yards per catch in three years as a Golden Gopher. He is everything the Ravens need and are missing at wide receiver even with Sammy Watkins now in the fold.

Bateman has all the traits of a prototypical ‘X’ receiver but shouldn’t be put in a prism. He can separate at every level, get open quickly off the line of scrimmage and in 2020, showed he can operate out of the slot as well.

He can come down with contested catches, make plays on the boundary and is a technically sound route runner. Bateman routinely baited and beat corners on double moves by faking horizontally before exploding vertically.

His best season came during his sensational sophomore year in 2019 when he recorded 60 receptions, 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns and averaged 20.3 yards per catch. Last year after originally opting out and contracting COVID prior to season, he caught 36 passes for 472 yards and two scores and averaged 13.1 yards a reception in five games.

Some evaluators questioned his speed early on in the pre-draft process, but after running an unofficial 4.34 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, those questions were answered. Nevertheless, speed isn’t the name of his game. He gains separation with precise route running more than he does straight line speed.

If Bateman gets taken just or well before the Ravens are on the clock in the first round two solid contingency plans at the position are LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. and Elijah Moore of Ole Miss.

- Joshua Reed

Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Oklahoma State Bryan Terry-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Gundy’s Air Raid scheme was spearheaded by Wallace over the last three season. He produced nearly 3,500 yards and 27 scores for the Cowboys during his decorated college career.

Wallace is terrific in contested catch situations with outstanding ball skills, tracking ability, concentration and fierce competitive toughness reminiscent of former Raven Steve Smith Sr. Despite lacking elite athleticism, Tylan is a well rounded wideout, a willing blocker and route technician with enough speed to run away from defensive backs.

He will need to improve his releases against press coverage at the next level. Nevertheless, Wallace profiles as a high-floor intermediate and vertical playmaker who will line-up on the outside.

If selected on Day 2, he would provide flexibility alongside and insurance behind Marquise Brown. North Carolina’s Dyami Brown is another field stretching wideout, expected to be selected on Day 2, who would complement Baltimore’s receiver room perfectly.

- Vasilis Lericos

Hate -

Kadarius Toney, Florida

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama at Florida Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Following a breakout 1,145 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdown senior season, Toney brings boom potential and a top-40 consensus grade to the NFL. An electric and dynamic weapon with rare twitch and quickness, he could develop into one of the best slot receivers in the league.

He also carries bust potential due to a small catch radius and unrefined route precision. Kadarius could thrive in a system catered to scheming him open in space.

Unfortunately, designing creative passing concepts or gadget plays is not coordinator Greg Roman’s strength. Furthermore, the Ravens already roster Devin Duvernay, a young receiver with a similar, albeit less agile skillset and a multitude of receivers capable of manning the slot.

Considering Toney’s draft projection, Baltimore can likely find better use of their draft capital.

- Vasilis Lericos

Nico Collins, Michigan

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Rutgers at Michigan

The Ravens have the inside track on scouting former Wolverines thanks to the Harbaugh-to-Harbaugh connection and they may very well draft a player from Big Blue for the second straight year, but I don’t think it should be Collins.

He had decent production in his sophomore and junior seasons with average quarterback play. In 25 games over those two years, he recorded 75 catches, 1,361 yards and 13 touchdowns and averaged 18.1 yards per a catch including a career-high 19.7 in 2019.

The 2020 opt-out primarily played on the boundary as a big play threat down the field who can make contested catches. However, he isn’t a polished route runner, doesn’t move well laterally and doesn’t run a variety of routes. He also does not possess the versatility to play in the slot like Bateman, Marshall or Moore. The projected mid-round pick would be better suited in a vertical passing offense like the Chiefs or Packers.

- Joshua Reed

Tight End:

Love -

Hunter Long, Boston College

Boston College v Duke Photo by Nell Redmond-Pool/Getty Images

The Ravens need to find another pass catching threat at tight end to properly replace Hayden Hurst and take some of the attention away from Mark Andrews. The former BC Eagle would make an excellent Raven and I believe he is the most complete prospect at the tight end position in the entire class.

He is a happy medium between Andrews and Nick Boyle with pass catching prowess and technically sound blocking. Hunter is an aggressive blocker in the run game. As a pass catcher, he runs good routes, possesses strong hands, absorbs and fights through contact and can make tough grabs in traffic.

Long recorded 89 receptions, 1,297 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns during his collegiate career. After a quiet freshman year, he assumed a larger role in the Eagles’ offense the past two years and emerged as one of the most consistent and productive tight ends in the FBS.

He would be well worth a second or third round pick depending on which direction general manager Eric DeCosta decides to go in the first round. The Ravens need another seam stretching threat and reliable intermediate target at tight end and Long fits the script.

- Joshua Reed

Brevin Jordan, Miami

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If the offense is aiming to foster a more balanced approach, adding a receiving tight end to replace Hayden Hurst would be worthwhile. Jordan, a former bluechip recruit, is one of the premier receiving tight ends in this class, behind only probable top-10 pick Kyle Pitts.

Over three seasons with the Hurricanes, he produced nearly 1,400 yards, 12.9 yards per catch and 13 scores. In 2020, Brevin improved his route running, showing improved quickness out of his breaks. A decent athlete with soft hands, he can stretch the seam and also provide Lamar Jackson with an outlet on horizontal routes.

His ability with the ball in his hands is perhaps Jordan’s best attribute, he runs with excellent balance, change of direction and physicality. If Baltimore selects him on Day 2, he can help improve the yards after the catch production from tight ends and fullbacks that regressed from 651 yards in 2019 to 272 yards in 2020.

- Vasilis Lericos

Hate -

Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Bowling Green at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While a fine prospect with legitimate upside, a Day 2 projection seems ambitious for Tremble.

He is regarded as one of the best blockers to enter the draft in many years, equally proficient at run and pass blocking. However, after recently extending Nick Boyle’s contract through the 2023 season and re-signing capable blocker Eric Tomlinson, selecting another blocking specialist early in the draft could be considered poor use of resources.

Tremble’s athleticism allows for projection as a pass catcher but his production over 19 games at Notre Dame was an underwhelming 35 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns. He remains raw as a route runner with below average run after the catch ability and a concerning volume of drops on his resume.

- Vasilis Lericos

Tre’ McKitty, Georgia

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The former Bulldog and Seminole was a four-star recruit coming but of IMG Academy but never realized his full potential or lived up to the hype in his first three years at Florida State or at Georgia after transferring. Despite showing flashes at times, he never recorded more than 26 receptions, 256 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a single season.

He is a willing blocker but isn’t proficient and has pass catching upside but doesn’t have the numbers to support it with just 56 catches, 628 receiving yards, three touchdowns and a 11.2 yards per catch average in four years. Long bested McKitty’s career totals in his junior season alone with 57 catches, 685 yards, five touchdowns and 12 yards per catch.

I’m weary of drafting a physical specimen who were unable to use superior athleticism to dominate at the collegiate level and projecting them to have greater success in the NFL. Two Day 3 pass catching tight ends that I prefer over McKitty are Kenny Yeboah of Ole Miss and Bowling Green State’s Quintin Morris.

- Joshua Reed