With all passes for both training camp and the July 31 stadium practice claimed in under 24 hours, there’s no shortage of fan excitement as the Ravens ramp up preparations for the 2021 season this week.
But with that enthusiasm comes great expectations for a franchise that’s won 25 regular-season games over the last two years. The Ravens will not only be aiming to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, but a deeper January run is in order after back-to-back exits in the divisional round. In the eyes of many, it will be Super Bowl or bust as a talented roster becomes more and more expensive.
Ahead of the start of training camp this week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2021 Ravens every day:
Projected depth chart entering training camp: Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, James Proche, Jaylon Moore, Binjimen Victor, Deon Cain, Devin Gray
Why to be impressed: The additions of Watkins and Bateman should provide star quarterback Lamar Jackson more options to target outside the numbers, an area in which the Ravens hope to expand their passing game. Brown rebounded from a poor November to catch 37 passes for 534 yards and six touchdowns over the final eight games, which included 11 receptions for 196 receiving yards in two postseason games. Watkins is still just 28 years old and caught 14 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown in Kansas City’s march to a Super Bowl championship two years ago, a reminder of what he’s still capable of doing when healthy. The 27th overall pick in this year’s draft, Bateman looked the part in the spring despite some nagging injuries and should have every opportunity to earn extensive snaps as an outside target who runs smooth routes and can make contested catches.
Why to be concerned: Baltimore posted the second-best drop rate (3.2 percent) in the NFL in a very efficient 2019 campaign, but the offense fell to 24th in drop rate at 5.2 percent last season, according to Pro Football Reference. While a number of variables contributed to the passing woes, wide receivers often struggled to create separation and earned Pro Football Focus’ fourth-worst team receiving grade. After striking out on some other free agents in March, general manager Eric DeCosta settled on a one-year deal with the oft-injured Watkins, whose yards per catch average has dipped every year since 2015 to go along with him playing more than 10 games in a regular season just twice over the last five years. The Ravens were pleased to be able to draft both Bateman and Wallace, but Brown is the only returning wide receiver to make more than 20 catches last season, speaking to how wide open the competition for snaps and targets should be.
Big question: How will the competition shake out for the final few receiver spots on the roster?
Time will tell whether the passing game takes that step or two forward needed for January, but the more immediate question for the summer will be how many young receivers Baltimore decides to keep in a run-heavy offense. Brown, Bateman, Watkins, Wallace, and Duvernay appear to be roster locks, which could possibly leave Boykin and Proche battling for one spot. A 2019 third-round pick who’s been unproductive on the outside, Boykin would be an interesting option to play more from the slot to see if he can use his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame to his advantage in a hybrid tight end role. Proche, a sixth-round selection from SMU, has excellent hands, but gaining sufficient separation against NFL defensive backs remains a question entering his second year. With DeCosta having drafted six wide receivers over the last three years, new assistants Tee Martin and Keith Williams have plenty of young talent with which to work. How quickly those young options develop will be critical to the championship aspirations of the 2021 Ravens.
Prediction: Operating more extensively from the slot with Watkins and Bateman lining up on the outside, Brown will build on his strong finish to 2020 and set new career highs in catches, receiving yards, yards per catch, and catch rate in his third season.