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Ravens young wide receivers are poised to prove doubters wrong

The team is confident in the youngsters they have invested in over the past two years.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been said about the state of the Baltimore Ravens’ depth chart at wide receiver following the trade of Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown to the Arizona Cardinals on the first night of the 2022 NFL Draft.

While most of it has been negative and skeptical, the team has maintained a positive outlook and is excited to see what their young wideouts can do with more opportunities. They’ve invested quite a bit of draft capital building up the group by taking a pair in three straight years prior to this year’s draft where they took none.

With the trade of Brown and the release of Miles Boykin last month ahead of the draft, both of the wideouts from the 2019 class are no longer on the roster. However, they still have Devin Duvernay and James Proche II who were selected in 2020, and Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace who were drafted last year.

In a recent appearance on “The Lounge” podcast, General Manager Eric DeCosta didn’t rule out the possibility and seemingly inevitably of adding a veteran free agent. However, he also expressed the organization’s confidence in the young players at the position already on the roster.

“We see those guys every day in the building, right?,” DeCosta said. “We see James. A lot of times James is uncoverable. We see Devin, we see the speed and toughness and the contact balance and hands. We saw Tylan this year on special teams and then when he had a chance to make a play, he made a big play. Tylan was a guy that, before his injury, probably would have been a second-round pick. So we’re excited about those guys.”

Many pundits already believed that Bateman was poised to make a significant leap from year one to year two but following the trade of Brown to the desert, expectations are even higher. He was the team’s first of two first-round picks in last year’s draft and showed a lot of promise as a rookie after he missed the first five games of the season.

Bateman finished with 46 receptions, 515 receiving yards, and one touchdown in 12 games and showed that he can beat press coverage, make defenders miss in space, gain separation with speed and crisp route running. He has been spending a lot of the time in the offseason catching passes from Lamar Jackson and is on track not only for a breakout season but to ascend to “true No. 1” receiver status.

Duvernay is coming off a Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro season as a return specialist but has shown in limited flashes that he can make meaningful and impressive contributions on offense as well. He finished with 33 receptions, 272 receiving yards, two touchdowns, and added seven touches in the running game where he recorded 50 rushing yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry.

Fans have been clamoring to see the former third-round pick out of Texas be utilized more often and in a multifaceted role that includes carrying the ball out of the backfield in a similar fashion to the way the San Francisco 49ers deploy Deebo Samuels. Down the stretch, last season, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman claimed that he has more schemed-up plays for Duvernay and others in a vault. Hopefully, he can unlock and unleash those plays so that the former Longhorn can flourish even more in his third season. With Brown gone, Duvernay will have a chance to show off his own blazing 4.39 speed down the field more often.

Calling a receiver “uncoverable” is among the highest compliments a pass-catcher can receive and it does accurately depict Proche’s second season in the league although his stats don’t reflect that. He finished with 16 receptions, 202 receiving yards, and no touchdowns but his 12.6 yards per reception and 10.1 yards per target were reflective of a receiver that knows where to settle and separate to move the chains.

Proche made several clutch catches and plays when given the opportunity and was frustratingly inactive for a trio of games in 2021 including the last two weeks of the season. He has the potential to be a potent weapon out of the slot and should have the opportunity to show off his strong hands and route-running prowess as a reliable target in the passing game in 2022.

Wallace was dubbed by many as a steal when the Ravens doubled dipped at the position in last year’s draft by taking him in the fourth round after selecting Bateman in the first. Unfortunately, he was largely relegated to playing special teams as a rookie where he shined on both coverage units but didn’t get many opportunities to showcase his playmaking ability as a pass-catcher.

The only wide receiver who caught fewer passes and was targeted less than Wallace in 2021 was Boykin. The former Oklahoma State star was active for and appeared in all 17 games but was only targeted six times and caught just two passes for 23 yards. The one big play that DeCosta referenced came against the Bengals in Week 16 in his lone start where he picked up a pivotal first down and put his tackle-breaking ability on full display.

While he isn’t the most physically imposing wideout at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Wallace showed that he can play a lot bigger than his size suggests in college for the Beavers and made some impressive plays in the preseason as well. In addition to more speed, the Ravens need more physicality on the perimeter at wide receiver as well when it comes to making contested catches in the passing game and blocking down the field in the running game. Wallace can do both and earned more snaps on offense heading into a sophomore season where he will be more involved.

Even though the Ravens didn’t spend any of their 11 picks in this year’s draft on the position, they signed several undrafted rookie free agent wide receivers that will have a chance to earn the fifth or sixth spot on the final depth chart. Mississippi States’ Makai Polk, Alabama’s Slade Boldin, Oregon’s Devon Williams, and Cal’s Trevon Clark are some of the most notable that will be in the running.

While there isn’t much faith in their youngsters at the position at the moment and a veteran addition is likely to happen at some point in the coming months, the Ravens are determined to see what they have in-house in 2022. Now that the offensive line has been fortified and has better depth in case of injuries, expect the passing attack to be more fruitful and explosive going forward which means more opportunities for the likes of Bateman, Duvernay, Proche, Wallace, and potentially an undrafted free agent to shine. And silence their doubters and skeptics.