Ravens Need to Provide Lamar Jackson with New Star WR in 2021 NFL Draft

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2021

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) gestures during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Baltimore Ravens must take an early swing at a top wide receiver in the 2021 draft in order to elevate quarterback Lamar Jackson's passing performances and thus their offense as a whole.

Last season, five rookie wideouts recorded at least 50 catches and 850 receiving yards—two of them second-rounders. This year's draft class compares closely to the 2020 group in terms of overall talent at the position. Baltimore doesn't need a top-10 selection to land an impact player, though the front office must nail the pick to unlock Jackson's full potential.

In his 2019 MVP season, Jackson had some remarkable outings without a star wide receiver. He led the league in touchdown passes (36) with only six interceptions while leading the Ravens to a 14-2 record. His top pass-catcher, tight end Mark Andrews, finished with 64 receptions for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Baltimore Ravens wideout Marquise Brown and quarterback Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens wideout Marquise Brown and quarterback Lamar JacksonNick Wass/Associated Press/Associated Press

Despite the Ravens' impressive campaign, they should have made an attempt to refresh the offense. Perhaps the team had too much confidence in Jackson and wideout Marquise Brown as a revolutionary duo on the rise. Last May, Tyler Dunne wrote about the team's outlook for the pair:

"Lamar-Hollywood the next Montana-Rice? If jamming these four names together sounds blasphemous to you, it sure doesn't to anyone in Baltimore. This is the expectation for Jackson and Brown, to become the next duo that changes the game."

This past season, Jackson didn't eclipse 275 passing yards in a single game and logged fewer than 200 passing yards in 10 of his 15 starts. Brown recorded 58 receptions for 769 yards and eight touchdowns, which is a slight uptick from his rookie numbers (46 receptions for 584 yards and seven scores) but nothing close to the club's lofty expectations.

Jackson didn't have a strong rapport with players behind Brown on the depth chart. According to ESPN's Jamison Hensley, the Ravens wide receivers had been the least productive unit in major categories.

"Last season, Baltimore’s wide receivers totaled 137 receptions (18 fewer than any other team) and 1,729 yards receiving (the only team that failed to reach 2,000 yards)," Hensley wrote. 

Lamar Jackson and offensive coordinator Greg Roman
Lamar Jackson and offensive coordinator Greg RomanJulio Cortez/Associated Press/Associated Press

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman deserves some fault—perhaps most of it.

Roman has done a terrific job with Jackson and the running backs on the ground. The Ravens have fielded the No. 1 rushing offense since he took over play-calling duties in 2019. However, Baltimore has become too dependent on the run without much commitment to the aerial attack. The offense ranked 32nd in pass attempts in each of the last two terms.

Following a Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown expressed frustration with his lack of targets in a tweet that he deleted after a text from head coach John Harbaugh.

After the Ravens' loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional round, Harbaugh suggested the team needed to bolster the wide receiver group.

"If we could bring a, 'quote unquote,' Anquan Boldin in here, let's do it," Harbaugh said. "Now, can we afford it, and what are the resources from other things that we need? That's the details that we have to figure out. But I think a big, physical receiver would be awesome for us."

The Ravens signed Sammy Watkins in free agency back in March. Yet according to ESPN's Todd McShay, they still plan to select a wideout early in the draft. Harbaugh spoke as though the team has a few prospects on its radar:

Jeff Zrebiec @jeffzrebiec

Harbaugh: "We'll find certain WRs in the draft that fit us. We know who they are. We've had the meetings. And we'll try and get them."

Honestly, it's hard to blame the Ravens for doubling down at the position.

Watkins had his best pro season under Roman, hauling in 60 receptions for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns with the Bills, but that happened in 2015. Since then, he hasn't eclipsed 673 yards in a single campaign. Furthermore, the 27-year-old has missed 14 outings over the last three terms.

Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta took umbrage with the criticism of his wide receiver corps and the team's draft track record at the position. He can change the narrative with a high-impact addition Thursday or Friday. The Ravens will go into the draft with two first-rounders, Nos. 27 and 31, which allows them some flexibility to move up for a prospect they like or down for proper value.

Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman
Minnesota wide receiver Rashod BatemanStacy Bengs/Associated Press

In the second-tier group of wide receiver prospects, behind Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman could be available at the back end of the first round. He's arguably the fourth-best prospect at the position.

As a sophomore in 2019, Bateman had a breakout campaign, catching 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also eclipsed 100 yards in three of his five games last season. 

Bateman runs detailed routes, fights through contact for tough receptions and racks up yards after the catch. He can attack all three levels of the field as a go-to target. With those attributes, the 21-year-old can become an immediate contributor.

LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr.
LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr.Brett Duke/Associated Press

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes teams have "cooled" on Terrace Marshall Jr. because of injury concerns, so the Ravens could potentially trade back and still land him on Day 2. Health issues aside, he's a borderline first-round talent. Marshall's 6'2", 205-pound frame should pay immediate dividends in the red zone as it did during his last two seasons at LSU. Since 2019, he's scored 23 touchdowns.

Marshall has run some lackadaisical routes, but if he sharpens his focus in that area, the athletic wideout could routinely win one-on-one matchups. The 20-year-old can line up across the formation, so an improvement in his route running can help him tremendously. Averaging 15.0 yards per catch in three years with the Tigers, he is a versatile big-play receiver with star potential.

North Carolina wide receiver Dyami Brown
North Carolina wide receiver Dyami BrownGerry Broome/Associated Press

As a collegian, Dyami Brown showed some consistency, racking up 1,000-plus yards while averaging at least 20 yards per catch in each of his last two campaigns at North Carolina. He led the program in receiving yards both years.

At 6'1", 189 pounds, Brown is a smooth operator off the line of scrimmage and beats defenders with explosiveness out of his breaks. At the pro level, he won't struggle to separate in one-on-one situations, which bodes well for his ability to stretch the field. Brown is a threat to take one to the end zone for six with the slightest bit of breathing room. The Ravens should trade back or move up into the second round if they plan to draft him.

Even though the Ravens sent their second-round pick along with offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs, they recouped an additional first-rounder (pick No. 31) that could become instrumental in acquiring a star wideout during the draft. 

If Baltimore can flip one of its Day 1 picks into a lead receiver, Jackson could make significant strides as a passer outside the numbers and put together another MVP-caliber performance in 2021.