The Baltimore Ravens are a few weeks away from the start of training camp and less than 90 days from their season opener. While General Manager Eric DeCosta has constructed quite the formidable roster to date, wide receiver remains one of, if not the team’s biggest remaining question mark.
There’s plenty of faith in 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman and the other in-house options, all of which are on rookie contracts. However, the position group could benefit from a veteran presence that can produce and lead by example, on and off the field. The offense could also use a proven deep threat that can stretch the field. Someone who opposing defenses respect enough to open up space at the intermediate level for All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews and others to make plays.
Here are five free agents that can check one or both boxes.
The 12-year veteran’s skillset may seem a bit redundant given he plays a similar role to what many —including myself — envision for James Proche. However, an offense can never have too many sure-handed pass catchers with a knack for picking up first downs and making clutch plays. Sanders also possesses championship pedigree having played in three Super Bowls in his career. He lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy as a member of the 2015 Denver Broncos.
He hasn’t recorded fewer than 600 receiving yards in a single season since 2017, with 626 in 2021 being his lowest playing in a loaded Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver room. The 35-year-old also hasn’t caught fewer than four touchdowns during than same span either. He is likely looking to add to his legacy and hopefully his trophy case by signing with a top contender, which the Ravens unequivocally are.
The former first-round pick possesses elite game-breaking speed and is a big play waiting to happen every time he steps on the field. Unfortunately, his worst ability has been his lack of availability due to injury. Fuller is exactly the kind of field-stretching deep threat that the Ravens need to offset the absence of Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown in their vertical passing attack.
He averages 14.7 yards per reception (YPR) for his career and in his last healthy — by his standards — season in 2020, he averaged a career-high 16.6 YPR in his most productive season to date. Signing him to a one-year deal with heavy incentives predicated on availability would be a shrewd but savvy move. DeCosta has shown he’s willing to do this sometimes when it comes to low-risk, high-reward propositions.
Even in his mid-30s, the 14-year veteran wideout can still take the top off opposing defenses. He proved it with two different teams in limited opportunities last season. He began the year with the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and averaged a whopping 27.6 yards per reception but asked for his release after being sparingly used. Jackson finished the year with the Las Vegas Raiders and averaged 19.4 yards per catch in nine games. He’d check both the seasoned veteran and proven deep threat boxes if signed, but he might not want to do so until training camp is underway.
The four-time Pro Bowler rebuffed the Ravens last offseason and opted to return to the Indianapolis Colts for his 10th season. He battled injuries in the least productive season of his career. When healthy, he has shown that he can still make plays down the field. Even though he only started nine games in 2021, Hilton recorded 14.4 yards per reception — his highest mark since 2018. His asking price won’t be very high, especially for this time of year, so if he’s open to signing for around the veteran minimum, the 32-year-old would be worth a flyer.
John Ross III
The former Top-10 pick has yet to live up to expectations but still possesses blazing speed that could prove useful and inexpensive. He averaged over 20 yards per reception in 2021 with the New York Giants and 14.4 prior to that during his four-year stint with the Cincinnati Bengals. Ross has never topped more than 28 catches or 506 receiving yards in a single season. At 26 years old, though, he’s still young and could find a role for himself in an offense that needs a vertical field-stretcher — like the Ravens.