The Baltimore Ravens' season is over, but fans still have the offseason to look forward to. After a successful 2008 campaign, they are looking to improve in certain areas during the offseason. I will provide a position-by-position look at what the Ravens have to do.
Today's article will focus on the positions of wide receiver and tight end.
Baltimore's receiving corps have played very well this season and made Joe Flacco's transition to the NFL easier. This year's wide outs were some of the, if not the, best receiving corps in Ravens' history.
Flacco's main target was the mind-blowing, consistent veteran Derrick Mason. Mason, who has not missed a game since 2002, had 80 receptions for 1037 yards and five touchdowns. One of the most impressive moments of the season was Mason's play after the Week 10 game against Houston in which he dislocated his shoulder but continued to be a tough target.
Mark Clayton had a great bounce-back season this year. After a disappointing 2007 campaign in which he had only 531 receiving yards and no touchdowns, Clayton had 695 yards this season and three touchdowns.
While those numbers won't blow you away, it was Clayton's playing methods and his regained confidence that made this a really good season for the fourth year receiver. He also showed his versatility with reverse plays where he ran the ball and an impressive touchdown throw to Derrick Mason off of a trick play in the game against Cincinnati.
Rounding out the receiving corps for Baltimore was Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith, Yamon Figurs, Terrance Copper, and Marcus Maxwell. Williams played well for 7 games before being placed on injured reserve. However, he should be a part of the team's future.
Smith is a rookie who had no receptions (he was criticized for having poor hands in the draft). He was mainly utilized on special teams (had 6 tackles this season) and occasionally lined up as a slot receiver but didn't have many balls thrown his way.
Figurs is a speedster and a returner but wasn't used much as a receiver until Williams was injured. He only had one reception for a touchdown. Copper and Maxwell were extras who will probably not be on the team next season.
There is a good chance that Baltimore will draft a wide receiver with their first round pick in the upcoming draft. They hold the 26th pick and a good fit for them would be Jeremy Maclin from Missouri or Percy Harvin from Florida. With one of them on the team next season, they could form an explosive tandem with Clayton and Mason as the third receiver can make good plays as well.
Position Grade: B
Some inconsistency when the wide outs wouldn't step in some games; injuries were a problem
How to improve: Ravens should take a receiver in the first round such as Maclin or Harvin, giving Flacco a more potent offense to work with.
The Ravens' tight end group is very enigmatic. Todd Heap is still capable, but his production has gone down a bit in recent years. He was able to stay healthy this season but only had 35 receptions for 409 yards—the least of his career when playing all 16 games. He also had 35 receptions this year compared to 23 last season when he only played six games. Heap needs to get back to his old form for next season, otherwise, Baltimore will have to look for a new tight end.
Daniel Wilcox is a solid 2nd tight end who provides a safety valve for Flacco in situations when he's playing. As a matter of fact, Wilcox was on the receiving end of Flacco's first touchdown throw. He is solid as a receiver and decent as a blocker in the two tight-end formation.
A player, often forgotten by the Ravens, is young tight end, Quinn Sypniewski. Sypniewski, in the 2007 season, when Heap and Wilcox were injured the majority of the time, Sypniewski stepped up and played well—accumulating 35 receptions.
He did not play in any games this season. He was on injured reserve due to a torn ACL, but he is expected to be back next season. He provides depth for the Ravens and a good passing option. He and Wilcox may battle for the second tight end role. His blocking is a bit suspect though.
There really isn't much of a reason for the Ravens to draft a tight end, this year. They will have to see how their guys play in 2009 to make that determination. However, picking up a blocking tight end in a middle or late round like Davon Drew out of East Carolina wouldn't hurt. It would be good for the running game and protection for Flacco.
Position grade: B-
How to improve: Perhaps picking up a blocking tight end in a mid-to-late round, but otherwise make sure Heap improves in order to return to his old form and keep Wilcox and Sypniewski in the gym and practice field, getting ready to compete for the job.
Next edition: Offensive Line