The Ravens entered last week’s draft with 10 picks, and seven of them were invested in the defensive side of the ball. Of the other three, only one player could touch a football with any frequency while trying to score (wide receiver Aaron Mellette, picked in the seventh round).
That was a predictable direction by general manager Ozzie Newsome, but it’s still concerning.
The Ravens’ defense was dealt repeated body blows during the early days of free agency, highlighted by the retirement of Ray Lewis, the need to release Bernard Pollard and make him a salary cap casualty, and then Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, and Dannell Ellerbe signed elsewhere.
So sure, it’s quite easy to understand the logic behind waiting until the 168th overall pick in the draft to select someone who doesn’t play defense. Because, you know, scoring points becomes a little futile when you can’t stop the other guys from doing the same. Matt Elam in the first round to replace Reed and play alongside Michael Huff made a whole lot of sense, as did Arthur Brown one round later.
But the hole left at wide receiver could lead to some mighty fine fantasy value.
‘Tis the season for braving the deep and murky fantasy mine shafts. Be careful with each step, and please avoid the corpse of Vince Young.
For those with an unhealthy fake footballing addiction, this is when the possibilities for quality value either late in drafts or on the wire are unearthed, with most frantically covered again late in August. The Ravens wide receiver depth chart should be included in your vision quest.
To relieve their crunchy cap situation, Anquan Boldin was traded to San Francisco. Age isn’t his friend (he’ll turn 33 early next season), but you’ll remember him as the guy who — despite some chilly cold snaps throughout 2012 — still had 380 receiving yards during the Ravens’ four-game playoff run, with four touchdowns. The dude can still ball, and now he’s gone. Tears.
You’ll also observe that even with their immense speed, there’s reason to have at least mild jitters when looking at the recent production of Baltimore’s now top two wideouts, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. With Boldin used as a possession receiver on intermediate routes, Smith went deep, and often pretty much only went deep. The result was Smith either erupting, or being erased. He had four games with over 80 yards, and five games with less than 35, with the latter slumping highlighted by a week with one catch for seven yards, and another with just 14 yards.
Of more concern is Jones. He’s stupid fast, we know this, and he could be just fine. But he was just sort of OK with more targets and usage in Houston while trying to be a complementary option opposite Andre Johnson. His ideal role is as a home run, vertical option, and not isolated to intermediate routes. We saw that back in 2010 when he had 21 more receptions than his total this past season (30), yet his yardage didn’t then take the expected jump (562 yards in 2010, and 406 in 2012).
So let him run and roam free, we say. When that happened in 2012 the result was quite nice, especially in the playoffs when he had catches of 70 and 56 yards.
The search for depth and targets beyond those two is where sleeper value could emerge following a draft when the wide receiver position was nearly neglected by the Ravens. Last year, Jones was the third receiver behind Boldin and Smith, and he was targeted 55 times. To replace those targets, Newsome said the search will be internal, with one of Mellette, Tommy Streeter, Deonte Thompson, Tandon Doss, David Reed, and DaQuan Williams emerging.
Hopefully. Here’s the Oz:
“Hopefully one or two of those guys are going to emerge,” Newsome said. “It would be great if all four of them did, but if two of them did, then that would help us to be able to say, ‘OK we need to sign David going forward, or we need to sign Tandon going forward.’ But if we don’t get a chance to get them on the field and tell them, ‘The job is yours to win, we’ll never get the opportunity to be able to provide for those guys to be able to play here in the future.”
They’re all lottery tickets, as combined last year those wide receivers who had the privileged of being Ozzie Newsome named dropped had 17 receptions. But the defending champions surely don’t intend to enter next season with Jones and his only adequate hands and route running in sole possession of their No. 2 wideout slot. In Houston he was largely a disappointment, and he was able to ascend to only third on the depth chart, behind Johnson and Kevin Walter.
Then there’s the matter of Jones’ return ability, a skill that earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl. Including the playoffs Jones scored three times on kickoff returns, and in the Super Bowl he recorded a total of 206 return yards (much of that came on a record-tying 108 yarder). Prior to the draft Ravens head coach John Harbaugh hinted strongly that any increase in Jones’ time on the field as a receiver would subtract from his time as returner. And that’s a very bad thing.
From CSN Baltimore:
“We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out,” coach John Harbaugh said at the Ravens pre-draft news conference. “That goes for every position; the more guys play in one area, the more it probably lessens their time in other areas just because you can only get so much time on the field.”
Harbaugh added that the Ravens will have Jones on a “pitch count.”
Enter either Doss or Streeter (maybe), the two most likely candidates to challenge Jones, and also possibly be early season fantasy waiver targets. Streeter is only a year removed from his 811 receiving yards and eight touchdowns during his final season at the University of Miami, while Doss has previously shown skill from the slot. During training camp last summer he gained the reputation of having “one of the best sets of hands on the roster”, for what it’s worth.
What’s ahead is uncertainty beyond Smith then, and therefore a depth chart that should be watched closely throughout the summer. The No. 2 job is Jones’ to lose for now, but he may have a tenuous hold at best, with Doss, Streeter or whoever rising quickly.