OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In a matter of months, the Baltimore Ravens have gone from having the NFL’s least productive group of wide receivers to a potentially historic unit.
The Ravens can become the first team in league history to have five first-round picks at wide receiver catch a pass in the regular season. The 2005 Detroit Lions are the only team to have four different first-round wide receivers do so, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
This position was clearly Baltimore’s offseason priority after the Ravens finished last season with a league-low 1,517 yards receiving from their wide receivers. In addition to the return of Rashod Bateman from a season-ending foot injury, Baltimore signed Odell Beckham Jr., Nelson Agholor and Laquon Treadwell in free agency and drafted Zay Flowers with its top pick in this year’s draft.
At the end of last season, Ravens coach John Harbaugh mentioned the one area of the offense that needed to be rebuilt was wide receiver. Did he have this type of overhaul in mind?
“I envisioned us doing the best we could and ignoring much of the media reports that receivers didn’t want to come here and all that nonsense,” Harbaugh said. “Now we’ve got to go get good. I mean, ‘OK, how good are we?’ We’re as good as we play, and that’s the next step.”
There was a narrative that wide receivers didn’t want to play for the Ravens’ run-first offense after JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton chose to play elsewhere in 2021. This offseason, after being the only team not to have a wide receiver total over 460 yards receiving, Baltimore has assembled its most talented group of pass-catchers in terms of pedigree.
But this is a position group that has plenty to prove. Beckham missed all of last season after another surgery on his left knee, and Agholor and Treadwell are still trying to shake the label of being first-round disappointments. Even Bateman, who was sidelined for the last nine games, is carrying a chip on his shoulder.
“You don’t really care about the expectations,” Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “[It’s] just the guys have to get out there and do what they do. The reason they went [in the] first round [is because they] make those plays and stuff like that. And I believe we have the guys to do it.”
Odell Beckham Jr.
Drafted: 12th pick in 2014 by the New York Giants
Expected role: The most accomplished receiver on the team, Beckham has all the motivation to be the No. 1 wide receiver on this team. He can earn a total of $3 million if he produces over 60 receptions, 1,000 yards receiving and nine touchdowns — or leads the team in those categories.
Biggest question: What version of Beckham are the Ravens getting? When Beckham suits up in September, it will mark his first game in 19 months. He hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiving season since 2019, which is also the last time he played under current offensive coordinator Todd Monken. But before injuring his left knee in the Super Bowl two season ago, Beckham looked like he had regained his playmaker form with the Los Angeles Rams, scoring seven touchdowns in 12 games (including playoffs).
What the Ravens are saying about him: “He’s always going to be crafty. He’s always going to be able to find a way to separate [from defenders].” — Monken
Mike Clay’s projected fantasy numbers: 52 receptions for 676 yards and four TDs
Drafted: 22nd in 2023 by the Ravens
Expected role: Flowers could end up being Jackson’s top target on the outside if Beckham and Bateman still have issues with injuries. At the very least, Flowers will be a top-three wide receiver for Baltimore as a rookie because of his route-running and ability to separate.
Biggest question: Can Flowers overcome a lack of size? At 5-foot-9, he was the smallest player selected in the first round (along with running back Jahmyr Gibbs, drafted by the Detroit Lions). Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta downplayed Flowers’ size, calling him “a competitive, feisty player with a history of production over five years.”
What the Ravens are saying about him: “When you watch his film, you just saw such an explosive player on tape who can play inside and out. [He has] great acceleration. [He’s a] playmaker with the ball in his hands, makes big plays, contested plays downfield.” — Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz
Mike Clay’s projected fantasy numbers: 49 receptions for 625 yards and five TDs
Drafted: 27th in 2021 by the Ravens
Expected role: This offseason, Jackson declared Bateman as “Receiver 1, for sure.” Before suffering a left foot injury in Week 4 last season, Bateman looked like a potential No. 1 receiver when he ranked third in the AFC North with 243 yards receiving. But he has more drops (four) than touchdown catches (three) in his career.
Biggest question: Will Bateman stay healthy? In his two-year career, he has missed 16 of 34 games because of a groin injury in 2021 and a foot injury last year. Bateman was out for all of minicamp in June because he received a cortisone shot in his foot after the screws were removed. He should be set to participate in training camp.
What the Ravens are saying about him: “Rashod’s going to have a great season. I’m a big believer in Rashod Bateman.” — Harbaugh
Mike Clay’s projected fantasy numbers: 46 receptions for 605 yards and three TDs
Drafted: 20th in 2015 by the Philadelphia Eagles
Expected role: A competition with Devin Duvernay for the No. 4 spot. This is subject to change considering the durability issues with Beckham and Bateman. Agholor is also pushing for more snaps after being one of the Ravens’ most productive players in offseason workouts.
Biggest question: Can Agholor reverse his downward slide? A first-round disappointment, Agholor put together a career year in 2020, when he had a career-high 896 yards receiving with the Las Vegas Raiders. Since then, his catches, receiving yards and touchdowns have decreased in each of the past two seasons. Harbaugh, though, is a fan. He repeatedly brought up Agholor’s name when talking about the wide receivers, referring to him as “an underrated signing.”
What the Ravens are saying about him: “He has been on point. He’s a talented guy. [He’s a] former first-round pick; he looks it — rangy, big catch radius.” — Harbaugh
Mike Clay’s projected fantasy numbers: 11 receptions for 152 yards and 1 TD
Drafted: 23rd in 2016 by the Minnesota Vikings
Expected role: Battling for one of the final wide receiver spots after being signed on June 6. A bust in Minnesota, Treadwell has intriguing size (6-2, 215) and speed but very little production. He has never had more than 450 yards receiving in a season and has a total of five touchdowns in 76 career games.
Biggest question: Will Treadwell make the team? Treadwell is on his seventh team in five years. Last season, he caught six passes for 42 yards for the Seattle Seahawks after getting cut from the practice squads for the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals. Treadwell will need to beat out the likes of Tylan Wallace and James Proche II and likely will need to make an impact on special teams to do so.
What the Ravens are saying about him: “[He’s] really a determined guy — wants to be really good. [He’s] physical [in] practice [and] worked hard in the workout. [He] came out here [on June 7] and pretty much knew what he was doing, after getting here less than 24 hours [prior]. He didn’t make a mistake out there. I think that says a lot about who he is. So, he’ll be in the mix. We’ll let him compete and see how he does.” — Harbaugh
Mike Clay’s projected fantasy numbers: N/A
Five first-rounders? Why the Ravens’ WR group could make history – ESPN – Baltimore Ravens Blog