Bold predictions for Ravens rookies expected to start or contribute: Devin Duvernay
The Baltimore Ravens are expecting major contributions from several members of their 10-man rookie class. At least seven of them competed for starting spots in training camp and will have significant roles in their inaugural seasons. Despite not having any semblance of a real offseason due to COVID-19, many of them have stood out and impressed coaches and teammates alike in training camp.
While it is a tall task to ask or expect first-year players to hit the ground running and become immediate difference-maker let alone stars from the jump in a normal year, here is the fourth edition of the bold production predictions series for some of the rookies that are expected to be starters or at least key contributors in year one.
WR Devin Duvernay breaks the rookie receiving touchdown record
When the Ravens selected the former Texas Longhorn standout in the third-round camera crew for the virtual draft caught Head Coach John Harbaugh more visibly excited when the Commissioner announced the pick than with any other of the Ravens nine draftees. He was caught on camera in his beautiful home study fist-pumping into the air.
Four months later with the season opener finally upon us, Duvernay is heading into his rookie season coming off an impressive first training camp where he carved out a role in Baltimore’s offense that continues to grow with each practice per Harbaugh.
The first-year wideout was right up there with fellow rookie J.K. Dobbins as one of the brightest standouts in training camp of both first-year and veteran players. The only receiver that got behind the Ravens topflight secondary on a regular basis more than Duvernay in practice both with and without pads was second-year speedster Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown who is expected to breakout in 2020 and challenge tight end Mark Andres for the team’s No.1 target in the passing game.
Duvernay ran one of the fastest 40-yard dash times at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. His mark of 4.34 seconds was tied for the fifth-fastest among receivers and tied for the seventh-fastest among all prospects. He gives the Ravens another explosive playmaking threat in the passing game that can help Brown stress opposing defenses downfield as well as work the underneath routes out of the slot with veteran Willie Snead IV.
His route running isn’t quite at expert level yet but it’s beyond his years and rather refined for a rookie at this stage considering he was robbed of all minicamps and OTAs due to COVID-19. Duvernay also possesses the positional flexibility to excel and makes plays both out wide and in the slot where primarily worked in college.
In his breakout senior season at Texas, he recorded career highs in receptions (106), yards (1386), yards per catch (13.1), and total touchdowns (10). In camp that he can be more than just a dangerous slot receiver, he showed that he can just be a dangerous receiver period and even showed some promise at returner where he never took any snaps in college but is open to doing in the pros if it means getting on the field more and helping the team win.
Wide receivers are stereotypically labeled the diva position that has produced some of the most charismatic and mercurial personalities that the game has ever seen. Players such as Odell Beckham Jr, Antonio Brown, and Hall of Famer Terrell Owens gave the position this reputation with their on and off the field antics but Duvernay doesn’t fit that mold in character or playing style.
He’s a hardworking grinder that wants to earn his peers’ respect with his play on the field and work ethic. He transforms into a running back in the open field once he gets the ball in his hands with the tackle-breaking physicality he runs with to pick up yards after the catch.
A popular pro comparison during the pre-draft process for Duvernay was retired receiver Steve Smith Sr who spent the bulk of his career with Carolina Panthers before spending his last three years in the league with the Ravens.
While Duvernay isn’t as short or light in weight as Smith was when he last played in 2016 (5-foot-9 and 195 pounds), at 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds he is still considered undersized for the position even though shorter players like Tyreek Hill and Brown have continued to prove that short guys can be game-breaking playmakers too.
The rookie not only resembles Smith in stature but also in the way he competes and in his approach to the game. Even though he’s not the same boisterous loudmouth and legendary trash-talker as the future Hall of Famer, he plays with the same toughness and mountain-sized chip on his shoulder to prove himself right and others wrong and just win at all costs.
As far as what a successful season would look like in terms of production for Duvernay, he likely won’t come close to reaching or eclipsing 1,000 yards receiving. He may not even match or surpass the franchise rookie receiving yards record of 841 set by Torrey Smith in 2011.
Targets might be a bit scarce some weeks with other weapons at reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson’s disposal coupled with the fact that the Baltimore produced the most prolific rushing attack in the 100-year history of the NFL in 2019 and are determined to dominate on the ground once again in 2020.
However, I predict Duvernay makes the most of the opportunities that he is given and cashes them in for scores breaking the Ravens’ rookie receiving touchdown record in the process. The record is currently a three-way tie between Smith (2011) and former undrafted gem Marlon Brown (2013), and Brown (2019) who each hauled in seven touchdowns passes as rookies.
I don’t think he’ll surpass 600 yards receiving on the year but I do believe that defense will be shading coverage more to Hollywood’s side as the year goes and he continues to breakout which will leave Duvernay in more situations to capitalize on one-on-one coverage and use his elite speed to beat defensive backs deep down the field or simply turn a short route into a big play.
Total production prediction: 43 receptions on 53 targets for 565 yards and eight touchdowns with a 13.25 yards per catch average.