This season, the Ravens may have their deepest and best receiving corps in franchise history. While that’s not saying a lot (the Ravens have had some piss-poor groups over the years), the plethora of options at Joe Flacco’s disposal this season should set him up for a great 2011 campaign.
Derrick Mason and Todd Heap-the franchise’s two all-time receiving leaders-are gone, but replacing them are younger and faster pass-catchers. The likes of Torrey Smith, Ed Dickson, David Reed, and Lee Evans are the future of the Ravens’ passing attack, and with an always-improving Joe Flacco under center, the Ravens have quietly put together a nice staple of young and talented receivers for Flacco to throw to.
Let’s start at the top. Anquan Boldin is very good, easily the best receiver to ever play in Baltimore. With that said, he was way too streaky last season. Boldin had four games last season with over 90 receiving yards, and four games with less than 20 receiving yards. Don’t think his lackluster performances are due to a lack of effort a la Randy Moss, as Boldin would often times be visibly angry on the sidelines if he dropped a pass or could not gain separation from a cornerback. I think his second season will be a much more successful one.
Behind Boldin is newly-acquired Lee Evans. In seven NFL seasons, Evans has had two years with over 1,000 yards receiving, and has caught at least seven touchdown passes in four seasons. In Friday night’s preseason game, Evans and Joe Flacco were working so well together, you’d think they’d been on the same team for years. Evans is a deep threat, and unlike Derrick Mason, his speed will create headaches for free safeties worrying about keeping tabs on both him and Anquan Boldin. Evans has a multi-faceted game, and look for that to be a big factor this season, especially if Boldin has struggles in some games like he did last season.
After the top two receivers, experience is limited, but athleticism and upside is everywhere. Ozzie Newsome isn’t known to use high draft picks on receivers, but he loved Torrey Smith’s blend of speed (fourth-fastest WR at NFL Combine) and size (6’1″, 205 lbs.), and envisioned the former Terps star as a starting NFL receiver. He’ll get a lot of looks this season as the third receiver. Check out this highlight reel from last season at Maryland, and check out all Smith has to offer the Ravens’ offense:
James Hardy and David Reed also intrigue me. Hardy was an absolute stud in college, known for shredding Big Ten defenses apart during his time at Indiana. At 6’5″, he is a touchdown threat, and could also create some coverage mismatches that would pit bigger, slower defensive backs against him. Reed is blossoming before our eyes into a versatile guy who should have success this season lining up in the slot. He’s quick and shifty, as evidenced by his kick returning last season, and has shown off some decent hands. He’s also an option in a Tyrod Taylor-based Suggs Package on reverses or QB/WR options.
After those five, there is a whole group of fringe guys who still have a lot they can bring to the team. Justin Harper is 6’3″ and has freakish leaping ability. Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams can both return kicks and gain good separation from cornerbacks. Marcus Smith is a great weapon on punt and kick coverage, and the coaching staff really likes how he plays.
I haven’t even mentioned the tight ends. Todd Heap is a big loss; his long reach and dependability gave Flacco a lot of comfort when he targeted #86. With some time, I think Flacco will learn to work well with Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. I feel that Pitta will be a significant factor in the Ravens’ offense, as he’s shown a lot of promise and improvement this Summer. Dickson is a very athletic player who can stretch the field better than Pitta, and probably better than Heap ever could. I said it when he was drafted and still believe it; Ed Dickson is a wide receiver trapped in a tight end’s body. He’s both big and fast, and if an opposing defense sticks the wrong linebacker or safety on him in pass coverage, they could really pay for it.
With cuts still coming, this receiving corps will look very different by the time Week 1 rolls around, but looking at all the pieces, it is a deep group with the potential to be great. There’s a nice mix of veteran star power (Boldin, Evans) and younger, high-potential guys (T. Smith, Dickson). With Joe Flacco improving every season, he could be due for a breakout year with a good group of pass-catchers surrounding him.
Edgar Walker writes stuff, and pretty much all of it is about sports. Follow him on Twitter to see him write more stuff. Pretty much all of that is about sports, too.