Spotlighting the Baltimore Ravens' WR Position Heading into the 2012 Season
The Baltimore Ravens of late have been known for two things: their defense, and the power and prowess of running back Ray Rice. As such, their passing game has fallen to the wayside of the minds of outside observers—and it very nearly has on the football field as well.
The reasons for this are many—a glut of young targets last season for quarterback Joe Flacco meant a steep learning curve, and a conservative passing game built by an offensive coordinator who isn't very interested in a heavily-involved No. 3 receiver led to the Ravens ranking 19th in average passing yards per game.
However, things look to be a bit different in Baltimore this year. They've made a veteran addition at the position, players who struggled with lingering injuries last season are now healthy, and it appears that the Ravens are going to try to throw the ball more in the modern, pass-happy NFL.
Now, as center Matt Birk pointed out on Monday, Flacco isn't going to be asked to throw for 450 yards every game in order to lead the Ravens to a win, but there's reason to believe that Baltimore will seek to maximize the potential of its receiving corps this season in the hopes of having a more consistent aerial attack.
Let's take a look at the Ravens' crew of receivers and try to see how they'll fit into the team's offensive game plan this season.
The Baltimore Ravens got themselves quite the playmaker in 2011 when they drafted Torrey Smith, and he certainly delivered in his rookie season, catching 50 of the 95 passes thrown his way, for 841 yards and seven touchdowns all while battling through a hernia which required offseason surgery.
Smith has promised a 1,000-plus-yard sophomore season, and it's hard to imagine this not happening. He's the Ravens' biggest deep threat, and he's paired up with one of the league's strongest-armed quarterbacks. That combination can only result in touchdowns and big yardage.
Anquan Boldin was the Ravens' most-targeted receiver last season, with 105 passes thrown his way. He caught 57 of them for 887 yards and three scores. Used primarily as a possession receiver last year, Boldin nonetheless caught most of his passes in the middle of the field and will likely be a full-time slot receiver in 2012.
Boldin's veteran presence and general reliability make him a major asset to the Ravens' otherwise quite young receiving corps.
At 31 years old (he'll turn 32 in October), Boldin may see a bit of a drop off in total yardage this year (especially if the Ravens can successfully work in a No. 3 receiver as well as continue to develop their tight end passing). However, he's a safety valve for Joe Flacco and will remain a major help to the team's offense for yet another season.
Jacoby Jones was brought on to the Baltimore Ravens roster this offseason for two reasons: to run back kicks and punts and to add another veteran to their young group of receivers. Much maligned in Houston for not living up to his potential, Jones is actually a good fit in Baltimore, where he'll be asked to take on the duties of a No. 3 receiver if he wins that job.
The thought is that by limiting the number of targets Jones gets, it will limit his chances for mistake (i.e. drops). No Ravens No. 3 receiver in the Cam Cameron era has caught more than 34 passes in a season, and that's likely Jones' ceiling this year if he's for sure their No. 3.
That role will suit him and the Ravens well, however. And it's not as though he is without competition in camp for that No. 3 job.
Torrey Smith wasn't the only Ravens receiver battling the effects of a sports hernia last season. Fellow rookie Tandon Doss was slowed in 2011 while he continued to recover from a double hernia surgery. Now that Doss has finally healed, look for him to get more playing time and in turn, make a bigger impact in his sophomore season.
While Doss was active in six games last season, he caught zero passes. This year, he'll likely get a bigger chance to prove himself, though he won't likely leapfrog Jacoby Jones on the depth chart. Ultimately, Doss is being groomed to be Boldin's replacement in the slot. When he's ready, he's going to be a truly explosive player.
While LaQuan Williams looked good in minicamp and OTAs this offseason, he'll have a lot to prove in training camp if he's to be a real challenger to Jacoby Jones and that No. 3 receiver spot.
Having a lot to prove is nothing new to Williams, of course, having made the active roster last season after coming in as an undrafted free agent rookie. He may have caught only four passes for 46 yards in 2011, but that's a far better outing than most other undrafted players have in their lifetimes.
Williams is, for all intents and purposes, very much in the battle for the No. 3 receiver job; if he doesn't get it, he's not on the roster bubble, however. He earned an active roster spot last year and he'll likely do the same again this year.
David Reed is on the Ravens' roster bubble heading into camp after having his first two seasons cut short by injury, most recently tearing his ACL near the end of 2011.
Reed is close to 100 percent and should be ready for training camp, where he'll need to stand out to get himself a roster spot this year.
Reed was used both as a receiver and kick and punt returner; the latter duties are now going to Jacoby Jones, and it looks like the former job will go to him as well, leaving Reed potentially the odd man out.
Tommy Streeter wasn't a very consistent player in college and is a developmental prospect for the Ravens presently. The sixth-round 2012 draft pick has size and speed to his advantage, but still needs to crisp up his route running.
With improved skills, Streeter could someday be a real red-zone threat; he may get a few targets this year as the team tests his waters, but it is also not surprising if he ends up on the practice squad instead.
Could Deonte Thompson be this year's LaQuan Williams? It's quite possible, if reports out of minicamp and OTAs are to be believed.
Thompson, an undrafted free agent out of Florida, is another fast receiver along the lines of Tommy Streeter, albeit shorter.
It's quite possible that Thompson could get some kick and punt return opportunities this year if his shining performance continues through training camp. The Ravens likely have just six receiver spots available on the active roster, and for now, it looks like Thompson is very much in the competition for one of them.
Devin Goda, Patrick Williams and Dorian Graham
The players on the margin of the Baltimore Ravens receiving corps are Devin Goda, Patrick Williams and Dorian Graham. It's not likely any of the three will make the Ravens' active roster this year unless one particularly stands out while another player seriously struggles in camp.
Williams was added to the Ravens practice squad in December after entering the league in 2009 as a Green Bay Packers undrafted free agent. He's never played a regular season snap, and if the Ravens keep him around this year, it will be yet again on the practice squad.
Graham is an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse. He's undersized at 5'9" and 188 pounds, but does have both return skills as well as receiving experience. There's likely not room on the active roster for him, so if Baltimore thinks he's worth developing, it will be the practice squad for him.
Goda has the most long-term promise for the Ravens of these three receivers. Coming from small Pennsylvania school Slippery Rock, where he caught 75 passes for 1,028 yards and 11 scores last season, Goda has a lot of learning to do. The practice squad is just where he can do that—and potentially emerge as a sleeper playmaker in a season or two.