Ravens veteran WR Willie Snead is the steady unsung hero of the offense
Not all heroes wear capes in the same way that not every NFL team’s most consistent target in the passing game leads the team in every or any receiving statistical category.
That’s the case for the Baltimore Ravens on offense where seven-year veteran wide receiver Willie Snead IV has been the reigning league MVP, Lamar Jackson’s most trusted pass-catcher to throw to this season and especially as of late in crucial situations whenever he needs a clutch to be made.
He’s already surpassed his receiving yardage total from last season (356) and is on pace to do the same in receptions (25), touchdowns (three), and targets (33).
Heading into the 2020 season, many media pundits and even those within the Baltimore Ravens organization believed that second-year wide receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown was instore for a breakout year as the team’s top and most dangerous target in the passing game.
However, after a hot start in the season opener where he topped 100 yards receiving for the first and only time this year, Brown has not recorded more than 86 yards in the eight games that followed.
While Brown has been the most disappointing wide receiver for the Ravens from a production and consistency standpoint and has been held to 55 yards on six catches in the last three games, Snead has been quarterback Jackson’s most reliable and consistent receiver all season and has been the most productive over the last month.
Snead has the highest catch percentage of any pass catchers on the roster with at least 30 targets in the team’s first nine games with a career high mark of 75.8 and has had an extremely potent month of November to date with a team-leading 207 yards, 14 catches, and 18 targets.
He was the intended receiver on Jackson’s last-ditch effort to score a go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds of their Week Eight loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and had a two-touchdown performance against the New England Patriots despite a torrential downpour this past Sunday.
“He’s a guy you can count on, and those are the kind of guys you’ve got to have out there,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “In those kinds of games, the guys who you can count on to be in the right spot, do the right thing, make the good, solid play, that’s invaluable. And players need to understand that. That’s what he does. Willie is exceptional at that.”
Rain or shine, Snead has been the most dependable and now productive receiver on the team, but his role goes beyond just catching passes, moving the chains, and scoring touchdowns.
He is an integral part of the Ravens running game as a downfield blocker and with blocking tight end specialist Nick Boyle out for the remainder of the season, he’ll likely be leaned on even more in that aspect even if it is not in the same capacity since he’s not a 6-foot-4 and 270-pound behemoth.
Snead is the veteran leader of a very young receiver group in Baltimore and sets the tone at the position with his physicality as a blocker, pass catcher, and ball carrier once he gets the ball in his hands.
“I’m seeing from Willie what we always get from Willie,” Harbaugh said. “He’s an incredibly steady player, a very consistent player. He’s in the right spots, he’ll make tough catches, he does the dirty work as far as blocking, he’s always prepared.”
He has a great feel for zone coverage and knows where to be and how to uncover to make himself available to his quarterback.
Even when he catches the ball short of the line to gain, he lowers his head and drives his legs like a running back to pick up the necessary yardage and sometimes carries multiple defenders in the process.
On an offense that has gone from the most potent and explosive in the league last season to struggling with consistency and efficiency this year, Snead has been one of the few players on that side of the ball for the Ravens that has been on point week in and week out and has made the most of his opportunities when they have come his way.
But in typical veteran leader fashion, Snead told reporters following Sunday’s game after their NFL record of consecutive games with at least 20 or more points scored streak was snapped in their 23-17 loss that the offense as a whole needs to improve and that the loss to the previously lowly Patriots was not going to “define” the rest of their season.
“We just have to be better, and I think we will continue to take strides in the passing game [and] offensively as a whole, and we’ll get better from this,” Snead said.
“We’re going to find out about the mold of this team – offense and defense. I think a lot of guys that are going to have to step up, they will step up, and they will show they can make an impact on this team – whoever that may be.”
Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman told reporters in his weekly press conference on Thursday that the offense will have to “forge a new identity moving forward”. Snead will continue to be an integral piece in whatever shape that identity takes because he’s their most dependable player.