With all the praise that deservedly goes Ozzie Newsome’s way, one of the areas he has struggled with over the years has been finding productive homegrown wide receivers for the purple and black.
Players with staying power who have transcended scouting reports or raised their play from college to the NFL have been few and far between for the Baltimore Ravens.
Here is a quick breakdown of wide receivers drafted by the Ravens since their inception in 1996:
’96 – Jermaine Lewis (5th) and James Roe (6th)
’98 – Patrick Johnson (2nd)
’99 – Brandon Stokley (4th)
’00 – Travis Taylor (1st)
’02 – Ron Johnson (4th) and Javin Hunter (6th)
’04 – Devard Darling (3rd), Clarence Moore (6th), and Derek Abney (7th)
’05 – Mark Clayton (1st)
’06 – Demetrius Williams (4th)
’07 – Yamon Figurs (3rd)
’08 – Marcus Smith (4th) and Justin Harper (7th)
’10 – David Reed (5th)
’11 – Torrey Smith (2nd) and Tandon Doss (4th)
’12 – Tommy Streeter (6th)
’13 – Aaron Mellette (7th)
At first glance, what jumped out most to me was how high a few of the busts were picked. Patrick Johnson (Brian Billick’s “Tasmanian Devil”) was picked in the 2nd round? Devard Darling and Yamon Figurs in the 3rd?
Those were obviously pretty poor choices in hindsight. Johnson and Darling never amounted to much and all Figurs was ever able to contribute was a few highlights as a kick returner.
Of the twenty wide receivers drafted since ’96, only five of these players have proven to be at all productive for the Ravens: Jermaine Lewis, Brandon Stokley, Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton, and Torrey Smith.
Lewis had a pretty good run his first three years in the NFL. “J-Lew” peaked in ’98 with 784 yards on 41 receptions and scored a high of 6 receiving touchdowns in both ’97 and ’98. From ’99 on, Lewis was featured more as a returner and was a spectacular one at that.
Stokley showed flashes of what he could do for an offense, but never seemed to fit Brian Billick’s jump ball style passing attack. Stokley would later emerge as a productive player, but not until moving on to Indianapolis.
Taylor and Clayton teased here and there with flashes of their first round talent. Taylor had his best year in ’02 with career highs of 869 yards on 61 receptions and 6 touchdowns. Clayton had a great sophomore year with career highs of 67 receptions for 939 yards and 5 touchdowns.
In the end, both Clayton and Taylor would prove to be disappointments and didn’t stay in the league long after they left Baltimore.
The book on Torrey Smith’s career in Baltimore is still being written, but so far Mr. Smith has proven to be, by far, the best of the bunch. Smith has had back-to-back 800-plus receiving yard seasons over his first two years and is poised for even more in his third year as Joe Flacco’s main receiving target.
Despite all of the disappointing results over the years with drafting and developing wide receivers, it seems the Ravens may have truly found a gem in undrafted free agent Marlon Brown. After a stellar preseason, Brown has stayed relevant so far in the regular season with one of the best debuts in Ravens’ history for a wide receiver.
Through two games, Brown has 8 receptions for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. By my count, only Travis Taylor’s two-game debut of 8 receptions for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns surpasses what Brown has done so far in this young season.
Currently, Brown leads the Ravens in touchdown catches, is third in receptions, and second in receiving yards. Those numbers could have been even better, had Brown been able to secure a potential touchdown pass from Joe Flacco against Cleveland that was off his fingertips. Despite that missed opportunity, Flacco continues to have good chemistry with Brown and hasn’t hesitated to throw the ball number 14’s way.
“Marlon Brown is a humble, hungry, hard-working guy,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the win against the Browns. “There are plenty of things he can get better at, route-running wise and playmaking-wise. He stays after it, and he made some big plays for us.”
Brown may not be a finished product, but for Ravens fans he is quickly becoming a player to focus on during each game. With so many questions at both wide receiver and tight end, Brown’s continued development and productivity the rest of the season will greatly determine how far the Ravens can go in defense of their Super Bowl title.