During the early part of the 2021 offseason, it seemed like the Ravens were content or destined to do little at the wide receiver position. As high-octane free agent wideouts like Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Corey Davis signed elsewhere, the Ravens sat on their hands and struck out — much to the dismay of a receiver-thirsty fanbase.
They then signed Sammy Watkins to a modest one-year deal. Watkins was a suitable fallback option and consolation prize, but adding him as the sole offseason move would not have been enough of an upgrade. After Eric DeCosta’s infamous “insulting” response in the pre-draft press conference, though, it seemed like maybe the Ravens were in fact content with Watkins being the only addition at the position.
This was quickly proven incorrect.
The Ravens supplemented the signing of Watkins by drafting two wide receivers this past weekend: Rashod Bateman in the first round and Tylan Wallace in the fourth round. Now, the Ravens suddenly have the makings of a deep, diverse receiver corps.
In a few months, we’ll likely be asking ourselves: who is the odd man out? Certainly not a question many fans would have envisioned just a couple of months ago — but here we are.
The Ravens are now seven-deep at the position. Watkins is the only receiver not on his rookie contract. Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin are entering Year 3. Bateman and Wallace are obviously rookies. Devin Duvernay and James Proche are rising sophomores. It’s a young group full of players with diverse skill sets.
In a perfect world, the Ravens could keep all seven wideouts on the 53-man roster. It seems incredibly unlikely that this happens, unfortunately. The Ravens don’t use wide receivers enough in the offense to merit keeping seven around at the expense of trimming another positions.
It’s way too early to get into roster cut predictions already, but we can still speculate at this juncture. Based on how the depth looks now, there would be five wideouts considered roster locks: Brown, Watkins, Duvernay, Bateman and Wallace. Brown and Watkins will be entrenched as starters. Duvernay has offensive upside and thrived as the Ravens’ primary return man on special teams. Neither Bateman nor Wallace are getting cut, obviously.
So who does that leave on the bubble? Boykin and Proche.
If it does in fact come down to this for the sixth and final receiver spot, it would be quite an interesting battle — one that the fanbase (and organization, for that matter) would likely be divided on. Boykin and Proche are very different receivers and bring contrasting traits and skill sets to the table.
Boykin is a traditional ‘X’ receiver. Proche is a traditional slot receiver. Boykin has started 24 of 33 games over his first two seasons, while Proche saw just a handful of offensive snaps in 2020. Proche began the season as the primary punt returner but eventually became a healthy scratch during the second half of the year.
In a starting role, Boykin’s impact as a pass-catcher has been spotty. He’s caught 32 receptions for 464 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his career thus far. These numbers aren’t terrible by any stretch but underwhelming for someone whose played as many snaps and ran as many routes as he has.
It’s a two-fold issue. Boykin isn’t always open and when he does see targets, he doesn’t always make the most of them. At the same time, Lamar Jackson doesn’t often look his way and when he does, the two seem to be on the same page about 50% of the time.
On the flip side, Boykin is an elite blocking wide receiver. This wouldn’t mean much in most offenses but for the Ravens, it’s a valuable trait. Boykin has been on the delivering end of numerous downfield blocks over the past two seasons that opened up big running lanes for Jackson, Gus Edwards, etc.
Proche is much more difficult to evaluate offensive player at this juncture given we’ve seen very little of him on the field. At his best, Proche is a strong route-runner in the slot who can separate and make tough catches over the middle of the field. At his worst, he profiles as an undersized receiver who lacks the top-end athleticism to separate consistently. In reality, he’d probably fall somewhere in the middle with extended playing time.
Both players bring some special teams ability to the table, which the Ravens obviously covet: Boykin as a “gunner” and Proche as a returner.
Would the Ravens cut ties with Proche after just one season of limited action? After trading up late in the 2020 draft to acquire him? Would they give up on Boykin, a third-round pick, after trading up to draft him in 2019? After starting him 24 games over two seasons?
Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure: this conversation is likely just beginning and will continue over the course of the next several months.
If roster cuts were today, which WR would be your odd man out?
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