The Baltimore Ravens entered training camp believing they had some talent at wide receiver. They knew they did not have a bonafide star, but thought they had enough depth to make things happen. Through three preseason games, that certainly has not been the case.
Steve Smith Sr. looked explosive when he was on the field Saturday night. He recorded four catches for 95 yards and a touchdown before being ejected from the game for a fight that broke out on the field. He looks to be in line for another terrific start to the 2015 season.
In the first six games of the 2014 season, Smith could not be contained. He tallied 573 yards on 35 receptions and four touchdowns, highlighted by his game against the Carolina Panthers in which he racked up 139 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches.
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The problem is Smith wore down as the season played out and failed to record over 100 yards in the final 10 games. In fact, there were seven games total that Smith did not reach even 50 receiving yards. In Week 12 against the San Diego Chargers, a game the Ravens needed to win to increase their playoff chances, Smith was held to one catch for two yards.
What happens if the same situation plays out again? Smith showed us he’s ready for the regular season opener, but if he tails off again, Marc Trestman needs another receiver to step up. The question is, who is that guy?
For some time now, those who follow the Ravens have praised the depth of the receiving corps. They have the veteran Smith and a group of young receivers that are all unique in there own way. But do they really have a guy who will take over if Smith’s production starts to drop?
The obvious answer is to say that first-round pick Breshad Perriman is that player. Perriman has all the physical attributes you look for in a player that could become a force in the NFL. He’s big. He’s strong. He is an absolute burner as well. The knock on him has been the tendency to drop passes, but that is something that can be cleaned up.
The problem is Perriman has not practiced since the opening day of camp with a knee injury. The time of the field impacts the timing with Joe Flacco, his conditioning and his general knowledge of the Ravens playbook. The team is hopeful that he will make a return soon, but even if he does, he still won’t be ready for the opener against the Denver Broncos. Even if he does play in the first couple weeks, he’ll likely be used as a decoy because of his speed to stretch the field.
Someone else needs to step up in the mean time, but who? Jeremy Butler had four catches against the Redskins, but dropped a pass in the end zone. Marlon Brown couldn’t not take advantage of his plays on the field. Darren Waller only caught one pass for five yards. None of these guys have shown that they can take some pressure of Smith, who will see double coverage otherwise.
The truth is the Ravens are counting on a group of guys who really aren’t that impressive. Kamar Aiken, Brown and Butler were undrafted free agents. Michael Campanaro was a seventh-rounder. Waller is a sixth-round pick. Sure, every team finds diamonds in the rough every now and then, but having realistic expectations that these guys can become significant pieces is foolish.
This just puts more pressure on Perriman to be that guy. He was brought to Baltimore to be future on the outside. Some guys cave under pressure. Some thrive. The Ravens have seen others receivers drafted throughout the league that have become immediate playmakers. Look no further than the phenomenon that’s followed Odell Beckham once he came back from injury for the New York Giants. Everyone is hopeful that Perriman can be just that for the Ravens.
Then it all comes back to Smith. He will be a force in the early part of the season, but how long until he wears down? The struggle with players in their latter years is that they breakdown over the course of a season. We saw it last year, and there is little to make us believe it won’t happen again.
Will the Ravens make a move to bring in another guy? Probably not. Reggie Wayne was the lone receiver available that could have started for the Ravens, but he signed with the New England Patriots. There could be some players that don’t make the cut for teams in the upcoming days, but even they would take time to get acclimated to the Ravens offense.
Baltimore will likely enter the season with the guys they already have on board, and that is not really something to be excited about. Yes, Smith looked great on Saturday, but it was probably a good thing he took himself out of the game. The Ravens are going to need to keep him as fresh as possible.
Most fans remember the play in which Lee Evans dropped a touchdown against the Patriots during the 2012 playoffs. With the current makeup of this receiving corps, you could see a lot more dropped passes costing the Ravens.
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