The Baltimore Ravens are deep enough on both offense and defense that they don’t necessarily need many of their rookies to emerge as starters in 2021. Nevertheless, they are still expecting most of them to contribute regularly, at least in rotational roles at their respective positions.
Here is the fifth in a seven-part series breaking down bold predictions for each member of the Ravens’ 2021 rookie class.
WR Tylan Wallace
Bold prediction: Wallace breaks the Ravens’ rookie receiving touchdown record.
The Ravens drafted the former Oklahoma State Cowboy in the fourth round of this year’s draft at No. 131 overall. He was projected to come off the board sometime during the second day of the draft — as high as the second by some — and could prove to be a steal much earlier than originally anticipated.
When Wallace was drafted, pundits praised the Ravens for doubling down at one of their top positions of need. However, he wasn’t expected to have a significant impact on the offense as a rookie considering the depth the team suddenly found themselves with. At the time, the Ravens’ remodeled wide receiver corps consisted of Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, and 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman.
With Bateman and Boykin out for at least the first three games and Watkins and Brown having missed large chunks of training camp with minor injuries, Wallace has an opportunity to make presence felt on offense early on in the season.
He was one of the few players at the position that stayed healthy throughout training camp and the preseason, so he could potentially see the highest average snap count of his rookie year during the first month-and-a-half season.
In college, Wallace was a contested-catch specialist. He ran the vast majority of his routes and accumulated most of his production working the right sideline. During the preseason and throughout the offseason program, the Ravens had him work the opposite sideline and even in the slot.
While he didn’t exactly light the world on fire in the preseason or stand out as brightly as other rookie receivers around the league — like Terrace Marshall did with the Carolina Panthers — Wallace flashed his playmaking potential. He showed strong hands, worked the boundary with great body control, and picked up some yards after the catch.
Another trait that he showcased that will make him an asset in the Ravens’ passing game is his ability to uncover in the end zone. Since he will be playing in an offense operated by the most dynamic dual-threat quarterback in league history, he will routinely be awarded additional time to gain some separation.
The threat Lamar Jackson poses as a runner causes defenders in the red zone to abandon their coverage responsibilities if they think the former league MVP might try to run the ball in himself. Then, Jackson hits suddenly wide-open targets for a touchdown.
In the play below, Wallace was able to gain separation at the top of his route and reeled in his first career touchdown. For a player without elite or even top-end speed, that ability to provide a quarterback with an open target projects well to be sustainable at the next level.
By the time the position group returns to full strength or as close to it, Wallace will already have a leg up Boykin and Bateman in terms of both production and establishing a rapport with Lamar Jackson.
If he capitalizes on the opportunities he will get over the first month of the season, he could be positioned to break the franchise rookie receiving touchdown record by the end of the expanded 17-game regular season. The current record holders are “Hollywood” and former Ravens’ wideouts Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown, who each hauled in seven scores as rookies.
Wallace will likely greatly benefit from the attention that will be paid to Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews in the red zone and wind up on the receiving end of some touchdown passes early and often. A fast start would ensure that even if he has modest production and a diminished role down the stretch, he’d still be able to surpass the record as long as he continues to get targets inside the opposing team’s 20-yard line.
Final stat prediction: 41 catches for 505 yards and eight touchdowns in 17 games.