The Baltimore Ravens wide receiver depth chart is and will continue to be a hot topic this offseason after the offense finished last in passing attempts and yardage last season.
The production they got from their wideouts ranked last in the league in 2020. Fans and pundits alike are clamoring for change with free agency less than two weeks away and the 2021 Draft right around the corner.
Following the end of the season, Head Coach John Harbaugh expressed his desire for the team to add a big-bodied target for Lamar Jackson in the passing game but didn’t specify that it necessarily had to be a wide receiver.
“I think a big, physical receiver would be awesome for us – a big target for Lamar,” said Harbaugh in January. “It could be another tight end too. Or a speed guy that could open coverage up would be valuable too. We could use anybody that’s good.”
The Ravens don’t have a lot of size amongst the receivers slated to return for their 2021 season. Outside of Miles Boykin who measures in at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, the average height and weight for the other three players at the position who caught a pass is about 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds.
While adding a traditional ‘X’ receiver who fits the prototypical mold with long limbs and a large catch radius would be ideal, it shouldn’t discourage the front office from adding another ‘undersized’ player at the position who is currently perceived to be a primarily slot option.
Just because an incoming prospect or veteran free agent doesn’t tower over or outweigh the vast majority of defensive backs that they will line up against, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be used on the perimeter or be as effective as those that do.
The best traits that a receiver or any pass-catcher can have are the ability to catch first and foremost, gain separation, and come up with clutch catches for touchdowns and key conversions.
There have been a fair share of undersized wideouts that came into the league with preconceived notions that they would never be more than returner and solid slot receiver before having Hall of Fame careers dominating both inside and outwide.
Three prime examples of such players are retired former Raven and longtime Carolina Panther Steve Smith, Antonio Brown formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs.
All three of the aforementioned players measure in under six feet and weigh under 200 pounds. However, that didn’t stop them from making at least five Pro Bowls in their respective careers and recording gold-jacket-worthy numbers.
The presence of Marquise Hollywood Brown, Devin Duvernay, and James Proche on the roster doesn’t mean that the team should not consider bringing in players with similar profiles and possess what some might call redundant skillsets.
A veteran like Golden Tate who just hit the open market after getting released by the New York Giants should be on their radar because he is a proven commodity that plays much bigger than his 5-foot-10 and 197-pound frame suggests. Since he was a salary cap casualty, he won’t count against the compensatory pick formula.
One player that is slated to hit the unrestricted free-agent market for the first time in a couple of weeks and could be totally worth signing if utilized correctly and often is Curtis Samuel.
The former second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the league. He is coming off a career year where he recorded 1,051 yards and five touchdowns from scrimmage in a similar role to the one Duvernay played as a rookie.
Thread on Curtis Samuel being one of the league's most criminally underrated skill players and one of the most exciting players in this year's free agency class pic.twitter.com/NcSvaYIi8I— Johnny Kinsley (Brian Burns Hive CEO) (@Brickwallblitz) February 26, 2021
This year’s draft class is extremely deep at the wide receiver and is particularly flush with prospects on the shorter side of the size spectrum but can be just as productive and are every bit as dynamic as their larger counterparts.
Some of the notable incoming rookies that the Ravens could target on day two and of the draft that measures under six-feet and around 200 pounds include South Carolina’s Shi Smith, Perdue’s Rondale Moore, Clemson’s Amari Rodgers, and Elijah Moore from Ole Miss.
Smith and Rodgers put on quite the show at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl both in the week of practice and the game itself.
Shi Smith is putting on a SHOW at the Senior Bowl pic.twitter.com/oypntuXXGp— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 27, 2021
Rodgers is the son of recently hired Wide Receivers coach, Tee Martin, and expressed his desire to be coached by his father if drafted by the Ravens on a recent appearance on Glenn Clark Radio.
“I know that he’s going to push me, he knows me more than anyone,” said Rodgers. “I know that he knows what’s good for me and what’s not. So, if I had the chance to play for him, he would definitely build me into the player I know I can be.”
Smaller receivers have had to defy the odds and prove naysayers wrong at every level they’ve played outside since their pee wee days. They are accustomed to and excel at overcoming adversity which often makes them a bit hungrier than the players at the position that were blessed ideal physical archetypes.
While being undersized can be a disadvantage when it comes to jumps balls and contested-catch situations, it does give them some advantages over bigger-bodied wideouts. Since they usually have better short-area quickness, they can often get open faster on shorter and underneath routes everywhere on the field, including in the red zone.
Their ability to gain quick separation on option, out and whip routes can help a quarterback like Jackson improve on his passing to the boundary, as well as play to his strength of attacking the middle of the field. They are often great after the catch and proficient at making defenders miss in the open field.
The Ravens need more playmakers at the wide receiver position, that much is clear. But what they shouldn’t and likely won’t do is shy away from adding a player at the position who slightly undersized or physically resembles some of their shorter receivers just because they want to add more size to the group. The addition of size to the stable of targets at Jackson’s disposal could come via another pass-catching tight end to complement Mark Andrews.