As much as fans would love to see Eric DeCosta and the Ravens provide Lamar Jackson with more legitimate receiving threats, the Ravens would be wise to address the defense early and select a wide receiver in the middle rounds of the draft.
In a very deep class of wide receivers, starting options could be available in rounds 2-5. With the loss of key pass-rushers in Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue via free agency, however, I anticipate the Ravens targeting an edge rusher in the first round. The team currently has very little pass rushing depth as Pernell McPhee and Jaylon Ferguson are slotted as starters at the moment.
DeCosta has already addressed the wide receiver position via free agency with the addition of Sammy Watkins, who had his best seasons as a pro when coached by Greg Roman in Buffalo. Additionally, four receivers have been drafted over the past three years with varying amounts of success resulting.
Marquise Brown has been an essential piece to the offense over his two pro seasons, and he should find more success with the addition of Watkins, who will take the pressure off of Brown. Miles Boykin has been a disappointment thus far and failed to establish himself as a physical and reliable target for Jackson. Both Devin Duvernay and James Proche showed flashes last season but ultimately didn't earn enough playing time to showcase their skills. In essence, the jury is still out for those two.
What many receivers in the 2021 Draft have in common is speed. Over the course of the past couple of months where university pro days have become a substitute for the NFL Combine, we’ve witnessed numerous receivers propel their draft stock. With at least 15 receivers running sub 4.50 40-times, the Ravens could easily wait and target a playmaker in the middle rounds.
Receivers that Baltimore should target in rounds 3-5 include UNC’s Dyami Brown, Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge, USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, and UCLA’s Demetric Felton.
What makes these receivers (besides Felton) different than other mid-round options is that they have experience lining up on the outside. This year’s receiver class will produce many players that will excel out of the slot, but the Ravens drafted a slot specialist in Devin Duvernay and recently added Sammy Watkins, who has plenty of experience working in the slot. So, these receivers could be intriguing for the Ravens because of the offense’s lack of another outside receiving presence.
Dyami Brown served as UNC’s deep threat and finished his 2020 season with 55 catches, 1,099 yards, 8 touchdowns, and a whopping average of 20 yards per reception. Brown ran well at his Pro Day by clocking in a 4.44 40-time. Brown would fit well for the Ravens because of Baltimore’s need for another field stretcher opposite of Marquise Brown. In addition to his talent as a deep threat, Brown ran routes off of RPOs in UNC’s spread offense. With varying degrees of overlap from what was tasked of him in college, Brown could be an early fit in Baltimore’s offense.
D’Wayne Eskridge put together a very strong 2020 campaign by compiling 33 receptions for 768 yards (23.3 YPR) and 8 touchdowns in only six games. Eskridge improved his draft stock by clocking a 4.38 40 time at his recent Pro Day and could find himself being an early, day two pick. The former three-star recruit proved his worth as a playmaker both after the catch and in contested-catch situations. There lies a possibility that Eskridge may not make it to Baltimore’s second-round pick, but with such a deep wide receiver class, the Ravens could have a shot at taking him should he slide during the draft.
Amon-Ra St. Brown may be one of the biggest sleepers at his position. He compiled 41 catches for 478 yards and 7 touchdowns throughout USC’s six-game season. What has pushed St. Brown down the draft boards is his lack of speed compared to other wide receivers in this class; keep in mind that this receiver class has been among the fastest in recent memory. Although St. Brown ran a modest 4.51 40 time at his pro day, his play speed appears faster than his dash time. He is among the smoothest route runners in the class and possesses different release techniques. He showed an ability to find success both in the slot and the outside - such versatility could allow him to find early playing time as a pro. St. Brown follows an NFL family lineage as his older brother, Equanimeous St. Brown, is a member of the Packers. Additionally, he follows former USC teammate Michael Pittman Jr., who looks to establish himself as a starter for the Indianapolis Colts in 2021. Overall, St. Brown has the makings to become a very reliable receiver who consistently gets open.
Demetric Felton, though one of the draft’s biggest question marks, could be a very valuable asset to an offense if properly used. Throughout his time at UCLA, Felton mainly played as a running back while taking occasional reps at receiver. While preparing for the pre-draft process and Senior Bowl, Felton transitioned to having wide receiver be his main position. While at UCLA, his versatility created mismatches not only with from the slot, but out of the backfield, too. At the Senior Bowl, Felton was one of the bigger risers after showing his ability to consistently gain separation at receiver. Although he doesn't possess game-breaking speed (4.55 40 time), Felton excels at making defenders miss in the open field. He may not be immediately impactful because he is still learning his new position, but the talent and versatility will be very hard to pass up on during the middle rounds.
What should the Ravens do in rounds 1-2?
I believe the Ravens should retool their defense after being losing numerous starters during free agency. Players of similar caliber to Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue are hard to come by, and the best way of finding such talent are early draft picks. Targeting pass-rushers in the first two rounds would be a very prudent move by the Ravens as they currently lack talent at the position. Players such as Kwity Paye, Azeez Ojulari, Jaelen Phillips, and Gregory Rousseau could be available for the Ravens at the 27th overall pick.
With many pieces already in place for the offense, I expect Eric DeCosta and the front office to put great focus on using the draft to maintain a Ravens tradition of good defenses.