The Baltimore Ravens have a long history of drafting and developing difference makers and stars, as well as first-ballot Hall of Famers, at several positions on both sides of the ball. However, wide receiver is the only spot where they had yet to strike gold despite numerous attempts to do so in the top two rounds of the draft for nearly three decades.
General Manager Eric DeCosta has taken a first-round wideout in three of his first five years at the helm of the Ravens’ front office. That includes this past spring, when he drafted Zay Flowers with the No. 22 overall pick. Through the first seven games of the 2023 season, it appears that he and the organization may have finally hit the jackpot with the former standout from his alma mater Boston College.
Flowers has been an electric model of consistency when it comes to production and displaying playmaking ability. He leads the Ravens in targets (54), receptions (39), receiving yards (442), and scrimmage yards (454). Flowers finished with 75 receiving yards on four catches in the team’s blowout win over the Detroit Lions. That made him the second rookie wideout ever to record at least 50 scrimmage yards in each of his first seven games since 1970, joining Cincinnati Bengals’ two-time Pro Bowler Ja’Marr Chase.
As impressive as his production and highlight reel plays have been to date, Flowers told reporters on Wednesday that he feels like he could be contributing even more to the offense and take his game to an even higher level.
“I feel like I can do a lot more and try to either get more yards or try to help [the team] in any way that I can,” Flowers said. “It feels like I’m just playing right now, and I’m out there.”
He is on pace to become the first Ravens’ wideout to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards since Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown posted a career-high 1,008 yards in 2021. The 2019 first-rounder requested to be traded the following offseason and had it granted on the first night of the 2022 draft.
Flowers’ lack of satisfaction with what he has done thus far, receptiveness to coaching, and dedication to the refinement of his craft have impressed his teammates and coaches.
“He’s explosive. He wants to be great,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “He’s willing to learn. He’s doing everything [at] full speed, and that’s what you need to do in the league.”
Flowers’ understanding of some of the nuances that come with playing the position is more advanced than most young wideouts coming into the league. His spatial awareness when working the boundary of the field is a prime example of this with how he consistently ensures that he gets both feet in-bounds.
Lamar Jackson and Zay Flowers are becoming a scary duo.— Matt Verderame (@MattVerderame) October 24, 2023
Already leading 14-0, the Ravens were trying to put away the Lions early. 3rd and 11? No problem.
Easy money on a nice, deep throw from Jackson and a great route from Flowers. pic.twitter.com/hOzGwAnpbr
The Ravens’ coaching staff hasn’t been surprised by what he’s shown or done thus far, as he’s been everything they believed they were getting when they took him with their first overall pick.
“He’s probably just a really great player. It’s why we drafted him where we did. But it’s almost the middle of the season, he has a challenge in front of him. I don’t think he’s looking back to answer that question. I think he’s looking forward to try to have the best game he can have on Sunday and help us win the game.”
Even Flowers’ veteran teammates on the other side of the ball couldn’t help but be effusive in their praise of the rookie. They are glad that they only have to worry about guarding him in practice during the week and not on Sundays or whatever day of the week a game might fall on.
“I saw clips of him pre-draft and I was thinking to myself, ‘Man I hope we draft this guy so I don’t have to guard him,’” three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “He got here and right away he was able to get releases on corners. He’s a small guy but he plays really tough. That’s one of the most surprising things about a small, quick guy like that. He’s not a guy that catches it and tries to get out of bounds. He’ll sometimes go into contact. He does a lot of things that make him a really good receiver.”
Flowers is on pace to easily surpass Torrey Smith’s rookie receiving yards record of 841 that he set in 2011. He’s projected to record 1,072.7 receiving yards, which would also top Brown’s career-high from two years ago. He is also currently outpacing Brown in receptions and yards, who leads the Arizona Cardinals with 32 catches on 60 targets for 383 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The two of them will share the same field this Sunday when the Ravens travel to the desert for a Week 8 interconference matchup.
Flowers is more focused on contributing to team success over racking up individual accolades. He believes the offense’s incredible performance in Week 7 isn’t only a glimpse of what they are capable of, not the finished product.
“I don’t think that’s the ceiling. I think we can do more,” Flowers said. “I think that was just the start. That was just a little taste [of it] I think.”