Baltimore Ravens must address the WR position in the 2021 NFL Draft

Evaluating the Baltimore Ravens’ passing game is a difficult task. The team plays such a unique offensive style that assessing them purely based on their box scores is an impossible task. However, the advanced metrics show that the unit underperformed in 2020, and the addition of Sammy Watkins won’t be enough to salvage it. If they want to be serious competitors next season, the Ravens need to add a WR in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The Baltimore Ravens’ pass catchers had poor box score statistics last season

Baltimore had three players with notable receiving statistics in 2020: WRs Marquise Brown and Willie Snead (769 yards and 8 touchdowns and 432 yards and 3 touchdowns, respectively), and tight end Mark Andrews (701 yards and 7 touchdowns).

On the surface, none of those statistics are particularly impressive. However, the Ravens’ focus on the running game naturally lowered the statistics of all of their pass catchers. As such, we will need a different measuring system to evaluate them properly.

The advanced metrics were not kind to the Ravens’ pass catchers in 2020

In order to compensate for the effect of the Ravens’ unique offensive playstyle on their pass catchers’ statistics, we will turn to the Offensive Value Metric, a grading system created by the (Bx) Movement.

The OVM measures players by how much they contributed to their offenses relative to the role they filled. The metric is tailor-made for evaluating players whose production was limited by factors outside of their control, as was the case with the members of Baltimore’s offense. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t reflect well on them.

Mark Andrews was mediocre last season

There really isn’t much to say about Andrews’ OVM grade. Most of his advanced metrics were unspectacular, with his yards after the catch statistics being particularly poor. Andrews averaged just 3.4 yards after the catch per reception last season, the sixth-lowest total among all qualifying tight ends. That number was exactly what was expected according to the NFL’s advanced metrics.

On the surface, that doesn’t sound so terrible. However, most wide receivers and tight ends were able to gain slightly more than expected, even if the difference was often quite small. Andrews couldn’t even manage that.

As a result of those poor statistics, Andrews earned a grade of 30.82, ranking in the bottom half at his position. That would be fine in some cases, but Andrews played a major role in Baltimore’s offense last season. Ideally, the most prominent figures in an offense would also be the most efficient. Andrews, however, clearly isn’t suited to such a significant role.

The loss of Willie Snead matters

Snead isn’t exactly a household name. He’s never been the No. 1 receiver for his offense, and he’s never totaled more than 1,000 yards in a season. Nevertheless, losing him hurts Baltimore’s offense more than you might expect. Snead wasn’t the most statistically productive WR last season, but he had the highest OVM grade of any player for the Ravens last season, at 33.25.

Like Andrews, most of his metrics were relatively mediocre, but his YAC numbers actually stand out as reasonably impressive. He averaged 6 yards after the catch last season, 1.5 yards higher than expected. Those numbers ranked 13th and 10th, respectively, among all qualifying wide receivers.

These statistics indicate that, while Snead’s role in the offense wasn’t especially large, he filled that role exceptionally well. Baltimore needs to replace that production somehow.

Marquise Brown suffered a sophomore slump

Perhaps the most significant problem for the Ravens’ passing game last season was Brown’s struggles. Unlike Snead, Brown’s advanced metrics somewhat underwhelmed in 2020, especially when compared to his rookie year.

His box score statistics improved, but his OVM grade fell from 34.55 to 24.68, dropping nearly 10 points. As a result, he went from ranking in the top half among all qualifying wide receivers in 2019 to being the second-lowest-graded WR in 2020.

Most of Brown’s advanced metrics stayed relatively similar, but his catch percentage fell by almost seven percent, dropping from 64.79% to 58%. It should be fairly obvious. It’s difficult to be a true WR1 if you can’t be relied on to catch the ball. The Ravens need Brown to return to form in 2020.

The Watkins signing doesn’t eliminate the need to draft a WR

Ravens fans might point out that Baltimore made a big splash this offseason when they signed Sammy Watkins. So, problem solved, right? Not exactly. Watkins is a great player, but the Ravens need more help than that. Of course, I don’t mean to downplay Watkins’ excellence. His OVM grade of 35.17 was higher than any of the Ravens last season, and he ranked 10th among all qualifying WRs in 2020.

Conversely, Watkins was very much a supplementary piece in the Kansas City offense in 2020. He was the fifth option behind several excellent players. Playing while surrounded by such phenomenal talent took the pressure off of Watkins. It’s possible that when placed in a position as the No. 1 option, he won’t perform nearly as well.

The Ravens need to address the WR position in the 2021 NFL Draft

Even if Watkins is the elite player that the Ravens hope he will be, they can’t simply substitute him for Snead and call it a day. Let’s assume that everything goes perfectly for the players currently on Baltimore’s roster.

Brown returns to the level he showed during his rookie season, and Watkins continues to play at an elite level while separated from Patrick Mahomes and taking on a larger role.

That still wouldn’t be enough for most offenses. Two good receivers and one below-average tight end aren’t enough to support an effective passing game, even on a run-focused offense. And that is the best-case scenario. If something goes wrong, Baltimore might be left with an even weaker unit than last season.

As such, drafting a supplementary WR seems almost necessary for the Ravens. Fortunately, this 2021 NFL Draft class is full of excellent wide receivers. While the Ravens likely won’t be able to snare one of the best prospects with the No. 27 pick, there are plenty of other promising choices available. The problem presented in an article should be easily fixable. All Baltimore needs to do is pick the right one.

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Lucas Ellinas is a writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Ellinas.


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