It doesn’t require a football savant to assess the Ravens’ wide receiver picture these days.
The 36-year-old Steve Smith has been terrific, turning in another strong performance with a broken back on Sunday. Even after missing a game, Smith is tied for 13th in the NFL in receptions (36) and ranks 12th in receiving yards (510) entering Week 7.
Everyone else? Not so much.
Though he often disappears for long stretches in games, Kamar Aiken at least has done enough to prove himself as a decent complementary piece, but only as a No. 3 or No. 4 option. His 18 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns are respectable, but he’s been targeted 34 times to accumulate those numbers. Aiken has shown decent hands in his two years with the Ravens, but he still struggles to gain enough consistent separation to be considered a starting-caliber player.
Still, Aiken is the second-best option the Ravens have with Breshad Perriman remaining sidelined with a knee injury.
Trying to find a No. 3 option has been a real problem as Marlon Brown isn’t getting the job done despite entering the year as the Ravens’ most-experienced option behind Smith. His successful 2013 rookie campaign feels like a distant memory now as the third-year receiver has just 10 catches for 84 yards on 23 targets.
The lack of production isn’t because of a lack of playing time, either, as Brown’s 188 snaps running pass routes rank 38th in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus data. Among the 95 receivers to run at least 100 routes this season, Brown ranks last with just 0.45 receiving yards per route.
Since catching 49 passes for 524 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, Brown hasn’t reached the end zone in his last 20 regular-season games and has also dropped three passes this season, giving Joe Flacco little reason to throw to him on the occasions when he does get open.
Should the Ravens turn elsewhere?
Rookie Darren Waller missed Sunday’s game with a concussion, but the duo of Jeremy Ross and Chris Givens outproduced Aiken and Brown against the 49ers. While the latter pair combined for just four catches, 31 yards, and a touchdown in 105 snaps, the speedier Ross and Givens totaled five catches for 52 yards in just 43 combined snaps.
Neither Ross nor Givens approach Brown’s height, but how often have you seen the 6-foot-5 receiver effectively use his size for that to matter?
It’s not a long-term solution by any means, but putting Ross or Givens — or both — on the field more often with Smith and Aiken at least gives Baltimore more speed, something sorely lacking in the passing game in 2015. And taking a longer look at Waller would also be wise in evaluating for the future as Brown just isn’t getting the job done with extensive opportunities.
Recent draft history
The Ravens need to improve their speed and play-making ability at the wide receiver and defensive back positions moving forward, but their recent draft history at those important spots helps explain how they’ve gotten to the point of being 1-5 in 2015.
Consider the wide receivers drafted by the Ravens since Torrey Smith in 2011:
Tandon Doss (2011 fourth round)
Tommy Streeter (2012 sixth round)
Aaron Mellette (2013 seventh round)
Michael Campanaro (2014 seventh round)
Breshad Perriman (2015 first round)
Darren Waller (2015 sixth round)
Of course, the fate of the last three on that list remains to be seen and most of these names were late-round picks, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens brass have expressed confidence annually that they can find receiver talent in every round of a draft.
The commitment of resources to improving the position hasn’t been there, and the poor return speaks for itself.
The picture may even be uglier when looking at the defensive backs drafted since Jimmy Smith in 2011:
CB Chykie Brown (2011 fifth round)
S Christian Thompson (2012 fourth round)
CB Asa Jackson (2012 fifth round)
S Matt Elam (2013 first round)
CB Marc Anthony (2013 seventh round)
S Terrence Brooks (2014 third round)
CB Tray Walker (2015 fourth round)
Maybe Brooks and Walker still develop into quality players — even if drafting the latter in the fourth round was a reach — but the Ravens have used higher picks in the secondary than at wide receiver in recent years and have fetched similarly disappointing results.
Maybe Shareece Wright was the wrong individual with which to be upset over Sunday’s loss.
Yanda in unique company
Newsome has often spoken about the unique individuals drafted by the Ravens to earn a second contract after their rookie deal, but four-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda joined an even more exclusive group to receive a third payday with Baltimore.
Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden received contract extensions in 2000 and 2004 after being taken with the fourth overall pick in 1996. Future Hall of Fame inside linebacker Ray Lewis agreed to extensions in 1998 and 2002 and re-signed with Baltimore after becoming a free agent for the first time in 2009. Six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs received a third contract with Baltimore just two offseasons ago.
But plenty of other great players in franchise history have not — including future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed.
Yanda doesn’t play a glamorous position, but he’s been the best guard in football for a few years now and has quietly built a strong résumé as one of the best players in franchise history. The Ravens wisely recognized that by awarding the 2007 third-round pick a four-year extension last Friday.
Diggs shining in Minnesota
Using 20-20 hindsight to judge a draft is easy, but you still can’t help but wonder whether the Ravens should have pulled the trigger in drafting former Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who is earning major praise with the Minnesota Vikings for his last two games.
Freak injuries — a broken leg and a lacerated kidney — and poor quarterback play in College Park were significant reasons why the talented Diggs fell to the fifth round this spring, but no one can deny the 6-foot, 191-pound receiver’s athleticism. Even after drafting Perriman, the Ravens still could have used more speed at wide receiver and an intriguing option in an unclear return game picture.
With Diggs on the board, the Ravens selected Walker from Texas Southern with the final selection of the fourth round. Ten picks later, Minnesota drafted the former Terp with the 146th overall pick.
A non-factor so far in his rookie season, the 6-foot-2 Walker may still have the superior career to validate the Ravens passing over a talent from their own backyard at that spot, but Diggs sure would look good in a different shade of purple than what he’s wearing these days.