Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Draft Still Leaves Ravens Wanting at Wide Receiver

It's very hard to argue with any of the Ravens' picks this weekend, particularly in the light of Ozzie & Co.'s history of success in the NFL Draft. The Ravens were able to take a top-15 player with the 23rd overall pick, a possible successor to Trevor Pryce in the 2nd round, a young cornerback/kick returner in the third, as well as excellent value picks in the later rounds. Each one of the picks has the potential to contribute in their first couple years and this draft again represents the good things that can happen when you don't panic and let the chips fall to you. But while everyone at the Castle is celebrating, still noone in that organization has seriously addressed the big elephant in the room: Flacco needs a deep threat.

The Ravens hit it big last year with Joe Flacco, and you would think that they would leap at the opportunity to complement him with a quality young wideout who he can develop with. Almost all great quarterbacks have a wideout with whom they develop. Aikman-Irvin, Montana-Rice, Manning-Harrison, Young-Rice; heck, even Roethlisberger-Ward and Palmer-Johnson (before that whole thing started falling apart). I understand that Joe Flacco has some targets and that they did produce adequately last season. However, even if Flacco has exemplary protection, there is no way that the defense can be kept honest unless there is a true vertical threat. Without one the Ravens will keep seeing what the Pittsburgh Steelers repeatedly did to them last season; drop seven, eight in zone and make Flacco thread the needle.

Ozzie has come out and stated that the deep threat will come in the form of a healthy Demetrius Williams. I'm sorry, but I'm not buying that: it's not that I don't like Demetrius and I don't think he's got the ability, it's that he was healthy at the start of last season too only to see another season end short. I would be shocked if he stayed healthy through this season, though I certainly would be elated to see that. There are still young wideouts like Marcus Smith and Justin Harper who were either invisible on the field (Smith) or injured (Harper) last season who have the potential to develop. I would talk up Marcus Smith again but after I talked him up bigtime last year and he didn't produce a single catch, I'll keep my mouth shut.

The Ravens are banking that a better line and a couple new tight ends will be the key this offense needs. They might be right in this, because too often the Ravens relied on 2-3 man routes while keeping everyone else in protection. This season expect the Ravens to utilize Todd Heap more in the passing game as they will have other tight ends to take some blocking duty, and expect some more receivers to make their names be known. If Joe Flacco (and by extension the entire offense) takes a step forward this year, we'll score another one for Ozzie. If not, we'll be looking back at some of the receivers in this draft and think of what might have been.

Update: Two of the Ravens' undrafted free agent signings are wide receivers: Eron Riley of Duke and Isaiah Williams of Maryland. Physically these two are nearly identical, both being 6'3" and about 200 pounds, with a 4.36 40 time for Riley and a 4.38 40 time for Williams. How either one develops will be an interesting storyline to follow; early edge to Riley because unlike Isaiah Williams, he produced significant numbers in college. Isaiah Williams never got into a groove at Maryland, only catching 10 passes as a senior.

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