Ravens Greg Roman is excited about how the receiver position will unfold
The Baltimore Ravens unleashed the most lethal and potent rushing attack that the NFL had ever seen in 2019, shattering several records in the process including the single-season mark for a team with 3,296 in 16 games. However, even though they were a run-first team and pounding the rock was their forte, their passing attack was just as explosive at times.
In just his second season in the pros and first as a full-time starter, Lamar Jackson was electrifying with the ball in his hands. He was a threat to score from anywhere on the field with his legs any time he decided to tuck and run or kept the ball off an R.P.O (run-pass-option) or designed run and he made defenses pay for selling out on the run and sleeping on his skills as a passer. He led the league in passing touchdowns with 36 and won league MVP.
A big reason that he was able to make a quantum leap in his maturation as a passer from limited in year one to league-leading in year two is all the work he put in with his talented receiving core in the offseason. Jackson only averaged about 25 passing attempts per game and the offense heavily featured its tight ends but that didn’t stop the Ravens’ receivers from making an impact as downfield blockers for their record-setting running game and making the most out of their pass-catching opportunities. They also added a pair of rookies in the draft that fit their mold of receiver as well.
The Ravens’ receiver that has received—no pun intended—a lot of attention heading into the upcoming season is 2019 first-round pick out of Oklahoma Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown. He flashed as a rookie despite dealing with a couple nagging low extremity injuries and not being fully recovered from Lisfranc foot surgery that he had early in the pre-draft process. He started 11 games and hauled in 46 receptions for 584 yards in 2019 and his seven receiving touchdowns were the second-most on the team and tied a franchise rookie record.
“Last year, all of us were saying, ‘Wow, once ‘Hollywood’ has an offseason — a real offseason — that’s going to be something,’” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said in video press conference last week. “I think we are going to see that this year. He’s been working really hard. He’s not dealing with certain aspects that he had to deal with last year, and he did a great job of fighting through that and battling through it.”
Brown has been taking full advantage of his first real offseason by training his butt off to refine his route running skills and reshape his body to be able to handle the rigors and potential punishing blows that he might endure over the course of a full season. He is fully recovered from the surgery that hampered him as a rookie and will be able to unleash the full force of his blazing speed in his sophomore season which could be the key to unlocking the Ravens’ deep passing game.
His fellow rising sophomore Miles Boykin was selected in the third round out of Notre Dame and is right up there with Hollywood as one of the young players that Roman and the Ravens hope and expect to break out in 2020. He also started 11 games as a rookie and was a great blocker downfield in the run game but after recording just 13 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns on just 22 targets, Boykin is expected to have a much heavier workload in his second season because his coaches want to get him more involved in the passing game.
“Miles Boykin, [we’re] really going to load his plate a lot more this year and really ask a lot of him this year,” Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said. “We really feel like he’s going to take a giant step.”
He is a supremely gifted athlete with all the measurables and athletic intangibles to blossom into a playmaker and difference-maker in Baltimore’s offense. Boykin possesses the long speed to get behind a defense, is crisp at breaking off the top of his routes to create separation, and both the size and catch radius to be great red zone threat and possession receiver. He’s spoken several times throughout this offseason about how the game has slowed down for him and how he looks forward to developing even better chemistry with Jackson in their second year together.
“I just feel like I’ve been getting better as an all-around player,” Boykin said. “I was a rookie, and obviously, I went out there and did what I could. I’m capable of a lot more, and I’ll be able to play faster this year, have more chemistry with Lamar and just be able to go out there and just play the game the way I know how to play.”
The veteran leader and not so elder statesman of the group is Willie Snead and while his targets, receptions and receiving yard totals took a dip in last season compared to his first year with the Ravens in 2018, he scored a career-high five receiving touchdowns and was a vital member of their revolutionary running game as the best downfield blocker of all the receivers. He was Jackson’s favorite target during his rookie year and continued to be a sure-handed chain mover in the slot during his MVP campaign.
Snead was often the receiver Roman sent into motion to see what kind of coverage the defense was running and to which side. When he wasn’t dictating coverage in motion, he was getting a running start to help the tight ends and tackles seal the edge for Jackson or one of the other ball carriers to run off tackle or at least slow down the backside pursuit defender if the run if the play is designed to go in between the tackles.
“I think Willie Snead is a swiss army knife in his own right,” said Roman. “He does so many things for us at a high level. He is one of the most physical receivers in the NFL and he was a big part of our rushing attack last year.”
The Ravens drafted another pair of rookies in this year’s draft when they selected Devin Duvernay out of Texas in the third round and James Proche out of SMU in the sixth. They are both coming off strong senior seasons where they recorded over 100 catches and eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving and they both possess inside and outside versatility. Even though they were robbed of their rookie minicamp and all other organized team activities (OTAs), that hasn’t stopped them from making an impression on their coaches and fellow teammates in private workouts with Jackson and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“We’re really excited about them and we’ve heard really good things from the guys at the workouts down in Florida,” said Roman. “It will be a lot of fun to get on the grass with them.”
Duvernay will join Snead as another strong presence in the slot and runs with the physicality of a running back with the ball in his hands. Proche might have a bit of a steeper climb up the depth chart but he could find his way on to the field early on as the starting returner.
Other players in the mix are Jaleel Scott and Chris Moore. Scott is entering his third season and was active for just three games last season recording just one catch for six yards on three targets. He shined during training camp and in the preseason last year but is considered to be on the roster bubble heading into this year’s training camp battle with plenty of competition ahead of him. Moore was resigned this offseason and is known more for his prowess as a special teams’ ace. He’s on both coverage teams and recognized as one of the best gunners in the league and he can contribute in the return game as well.
“I love Willie Snead and Hollywood Brown,” General Manager Eric DeCosta said in conference call with season ticket holders in early May. “And we drafted Miles Boykin last year. And I think that Chris Moore is one of the best special teams wide receivers in the league. We drafted Devin Duvernay this year, James Proche. We’ve got Jaleel Scott on the team. We’ve also got all these tight ends.
“So we think if you look at our team over the last two, three years, we’ve done a lot to address skill positions: targets for Lamar, guys that can make plays. We feel really, really good about that. We love the mix of personalities and players and the upside and leadership that we’ve got. And I think Lamar’s got a great chemistry with those guys as well. We think our younger guys are going to continue to make a jump.”
Roman wants his offense to be diverse and unpredictable from play to play which means he could use any number of personnel combinations and packages from one down to the next that incorporate some or several of the aforementioned receivers as well as the talented tight ends on the roster such as 2019 Pro Bowler Mark Andrews and renown blocking specialist Nick Boyle.
“We are going to be a very multiple offense. You might see three, four tight ends on the field. You might see five [wideouts] on the field. On the next play, you might see something completely different,” Roman said.
While he didn’t divulge which receivers will be used in which ways and how often, he did say that each of them that makes the roster will have a part to play in his offense. Whether its scoring points quickly or methodically as pass catchers or helping spring Jackson or one of the other ball carriers for a big gain as run blockers, the Ravens’ receivers will be more involved in their 2020 game plan and Roman can’t wait to get to work.
“Everybody is going to have an important role, and how we build the overall attack week-to-week will be different. But one thing is for sure; we’re going to be multiple with how we deploy personnel – so the more the merrier – and I’m really excited to get to work with those guys.”