The Baltimore Ravens created some Day 1 drama during April’s NFL draft, sending Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for a first-round pick. Brown, Baltimore’s top wide receiver over the past few years, was looking for a change of scenery, so the Ravens obliged, while also picking up a notable draft asset in return. But how does this move impact Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ WR depth chart going forward?
To understand this overarching impact on the franchise, fantasy football, NFL betting odds, and more, we turned to our Pro Football Network experts for our weekly PFN Roundtable discussion.
Why have the Ravens avoided replacing “Hollywood” Brown at WR?
Instead of using that first-round pick to replace Brown, the Ravens went in another direction, selecting center Tyler Linderbaum with the 25th overall selection. With Brown now in the desert and no clear replacement added to the mix, the Ravens’ WR depth chart is lacking luster, which could greatly impact Jackson’s bottom line in a contract year.
On paper, the Ravens’ wideout group is among the worst in the league. While last year’s first-round pick, Rashod Bateman, had a solid-not-spectacular initial NFL campaign (46 catches for 515 yards and a touchdown), he’s going to be asked to step up dramatically in Year 2. And, outside of Bateman, the rest of the group has little appeal, unless you’re intrigued by a bunch of undrafted players and All-Pro returner Devin Duvernay.
Jackson, who is known for his elite dual-threat skills, will need to continue to rely on his running backs and tight ends to move the chains with Brown now in Arizona. That said, that recipe has worked well for Jackson and the Ravens over the past four years. Part of the reason that Brown wanted a change of scenery is that the Ravens operate an offense that is largely based around 12 [one running back, two tight ends] and 21 [two running backs, one tight end] personnel packages.
In truth, the lack of wideout talent fits with what the Ravens hold dear. That’s why the team ignored wide receiver in the draft and drafted tight ends Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely to play behind Pro Bowl playmaker Mark Andrews. The team also has veterans Nick Boyle and Josh Oliver as established assets at the position.
Essentially, the Ravens are doubling down on what’s worked for Jackson, who won the NFL MVP award in 2019.
Last year, according to Sharp Football Stats, the Ravens lined up in 21 personnel on 22% of their snaps. That percentage was third-highest in the league. The offense also had the highest percentage (14%) of 22 personnel in the league, utilizing two running backs and two tight ends in the same formation more than any other team in the league.
According to Sharp, the Ravens had the second-lowest percentage of three-receiver looks in the league (43%), which fell 18% lower than the NFL average (61%). Limiting the wideout depth chart speaks to the lack of value the position has in the offense.
So, while the Ravens’ offense doesn’t look like it’ll be incredibly explosive because of its wideout woes, the decision of the depth chart is very much predicated on Jackson’s experience and strengths within the offense. Jackson likes targeting his RBs and TEs and setting them up for YAC opportunities. Instead of taking low-percentage shots down the field, the Ravens would prefer for Jackson to use his legs and his safety-net weapons to keep the offense flowing. – Mike Kaye, PFN Lead NFL Reporter
Lamar Jackson’s fantasy outlook with questionable WR room
If you ask someone who their favorite fantasy football breakout is for the 2022 season, it will not take long until you hear Bateman’s name for an answer. I’m right there. Not only does Bateman have the skills to succeed, but he has a rare opportunity awaiting him.
Following the trade of Brown to the Cardinals, Bateman vaulted into the unrivaled No. 1 spot on the Ravens’ depth chart. Given the philosophy of the Ravens’ offense as alluded to by Mike above, the Ravens rely on two primary pass catchers. In 2022, those being Andrews at TE and Bateman at WR, with each seeing over 22% of the targets.
Bateman came into the league last season out of Minnesota as arguably the most “pro-ready” WR of the class. While he’s not truly elite at one thing, he is as well-rounded as they come. If not for a core muscle injury that hampered the start of his rookie year, Bateman could have been in the same range as Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith as rookie breakouts.
It took until Week 15 of last season for Bateman to record over 70% of the snaps. By that time, Jackson had already been ruled out for the season. Nevertheless, Jackson and Bateman were able to get some reps together, primarily between Weeks 6 through 10, where Bateman saw 28 targets in four games.
Bateman is a prime breakout candidate for fantasy. With that said, this is not an offense that is typically conducive for high-scoring receivers. At the end of the day, this is a run-first team. Last season we saw a shift, but this was due to season-ending injuries to their top-three running backs. Even as the unrivaled No. 1, Bateman is in the low-end WR2/high-end WR3 range as even roughly 22% of the targets will only equate to around 115 targets.
With that said, Bateman should crest the 900-yard mark barring health and be a weekly fantasy starter. In the end, Bateman and Andrews are the only pass catchers on the Ravens worth selecting on draft day in standard leagues. – Tommy Garrett, PFN Senior Fantasy Analyst
How Baltimore’s lack of wideout weapons impacts NFL betting odds
The Ravens have never boasted an elite group of wide receivers. Not in the Lamar Jackson era or the Joe Flacco era. Not even in the Steve McNair or Trent Dilfer eras. This is a team that has just never prioritized the WR position.
In the current incarnation of the Ravens’ offense, the key is the health of their offensive line, defense, and, of course, their quarterback. When the Ravens shipped Brown off to Arizona and didn’t draft a wide receiver, their betting odds remained unchanged.
Baltimore has Andrews and Bateman, and Jackson isn’t really capable of supporting more than two pass catchers anyway. Look for the Ravens to get back to their run-heavy ways this season, something they couldn’t do as much last season after losing their top three running backs before the season and having a defense ravaged by injury. Their weekly odds throughout the season will depend upon how well Jackson and the defense are executing. – Jason Katz, PFN Fantasy and Betting Analyst
How the Ravens’ current wideout group could impact their 2023 NFL Draft plans
The Ravens’ wide receiver situation is an intriguing one. For the time being, even though the position group itself is underwhelming in terms of talent, it’s not necessarily a pressing need, largely due to the reasons specified above. With the Ravens playing in 12 and 21 personnel as often as they do, they don’t always need more than two receivers on the field at a given time.
Obviously, they won’t be in those formations 100% of the time. But the presence of Andrews, combined with the additions of Kolar and Likely, enables Baltimore to keep doing what they’ve been doing — building around a running game energized by Jackson and developing the passing attack off of that.
Looking at WR individually, Baltimore is likely counting on a breakout from their 2021 first-round pick, Bateman. Elsewhere, players like Duvernay, James Proche, Tylan Wallace, Slade Bolden, and Makai Polk could take advantage of opportunities generated by the overarching lack of stability. Still, even with the personnel caveats, Baltimore should have an eye on WR in the 2023 NFL Draft. It’ll be another deep and talented class — something the Ravens can take advantage of.
Who should Baltimore have their eye on? It’s still early, but ideally, the Ravens will add a speed element back into their WR corps after losing Brown. North Carolina’s Josh Downs profiles as a stellar fit — likely in Round 2 or 3, although Round 1 can’t be ruled out at this point. He’s an explosive, twitchy wide receiver with great catching instincts and versatility. Downs brings deep speed and dynamic ability downfield and also competes well as a blocker, despite being undersized.
Blocking is another element the Ravens may value especially high of their WR prospects, given the nature of the offense. If they deem receiver a major need by next spring, Jaxon Smith-Njigba could be an option in Round 1. He’s a fantastic WR prospect with three-level utility and great blocking ability as well. Another option in the late Day 2, early Day 3 range would be Michigan State’s Jayden Reed. Reed is underrated with his burst, speed, and body control, and he’s easily one of the better blocking WRs in the class early on.
There’s still a long way to go before we have a concrete read on the 2023 NFL Draft WR class. But the bottom line is, the Ravens don’t need to panic — there will be options for them to review. – Ian Cummings, PFN NFL Draft Analyst