OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens swung for the fences with their first-round selection of Central Florida wide receiver Breshad Perriman on Thursday night.
Less than two months after watching speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith depart via free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome came away with a bigger and faster version of the 2011 second-round pick who will immediately give the passing game a much-needed vertical threat. Of course, the Ravens’ struggles in developing talent at the position are no secret as Perriman became the first receiver drafted by the organization in the first round since Mark Clayton in 2005, making you wonder if it will finally be different this time around.
Their 2000 first-round receiver Travis Taylor? A flop.
No, we can’t forget the laundry list of disappointing names, even after Smith served as the exception to the rule over the last four years.
Baltimore hopes the son of former 10-year NFL receiver Brett Perriman becomes their greatest success story at the position yet after Smith left the franchise ranked second in all-time touchdown receptions and third in career receiving yards. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Perriman is easily the most physically-gifted receiver the Ravens have drafted in their 20-year history after he ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.3 seconds at his pro day.
With the Ravens in desperate need of a receiver to blow the top off opposing defenses, the selection looks good on paper.
“I saw a big, fast, physical stallion,” said assistant general manager Eric DeCosta about his impressions watching Perriman’s game tape at Newsome’s urging in February. “A younger player; he’s going to get better. We’re very excited about him. He complements our group of guys extremely well. I think he’s a great kid, and I think he makes us a better football team.”
Perriman doesn’t come without questions as his highlight-reel plays and 20.8 yards per catch average at UCF the last two years were too often offset by inconsistent hands resulting in “concentration drops” as Newsome described them. Primarily used in the vertical passing game, the 21-year-old will need to prove he can run the entire route tree, something that prohibited Smith from becoming a bona fide No. 1 receiver in his time with Baltimore.
At the very least, the Ravens will break even if Perriman can be as good as Smith was over his first four years. The University of Maryland product may have only been a second-round pick compared to Perriman being a first-rounder, but the Ravens will pay the latter a fraction of the $40 million contract Smith signed with San Francisco in March.
Ultimately, Perriman’s selection represents the Ravens’ best attempt to find 30-year-old quarterback Joe Flacco a true No. 1 receiver. It doesn’t need to happen immediately with veteran Steve Smith still present to lead a young group of wideouts, but the Ravens haven’t aimed this high at the position at any point during Flacco’s career.
After Perriman caught 115 passes for 2,243 yards and 16 touchdowns in his three collegiate seasons — two of them playing with current Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles — it’s clear the Ravens envision much more after he declared for the draft as a junior.
“This is a developmental receiver who has gotten a lot better in the last two years,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He really played well in the last five or six games of this past season. We think he’s on the rise. He rose for a reason in the draft as far as in the past couple months in the draft process, and we are really excited about him as a coaching staff.”
The Ravens have found productive veterans over age 30 (Steve Smith, Derrick Mason, and Anquan Boldin) over the years and taken fliers on late-round picks such as Tommy Streeter, Aaron Mellette, and Michael Campanaro over the year, but drafting Perriman is their strongest attempt yet to find a top-flight receiver after using a second-round pick on Smith four years ago. His upside is easy to see, but receivers with his skill set are difficult to project as his hands could ultimately be his undoing despite such impressive physical gifts.
Perriman’s selection might ultimately prove to be a whiff, but Newsome hopes his speed, size, and football pedigree make for a winning combination while also maximizing Flacco’s ability in the prime of his career.
Selecting a receiver like Perriman is a risk, but it’s worth it if the Ravens can take their offense to the next level.
Sometimes you just have to try to knock one out of the park.
“I feel I had my best visit that I had by far [with the Ravens],” Perriman said. “That was actually the team that I was wishing to go to. I know it’s a great opportunity, and I can’t wait to get there.”