The Baltimore Ravens released their first official depth chart for 2022 five days ago. It lists 12 wide receivers. Together, those dozen receivers have combined for 1,227 career receiving yards. Congratulations! That total would make the full careers of the entire Ravens’ 2022 wide receiver room the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver (excluding tight ends) for a single season, giving them 26 more yards than Michael Jackson had in 1996.
In 2021 alone, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recorded 1,684 passing yards (and therefore receiving yards as well) in just the second quarter. They also recorded 1,239 passing yards in the fourth quarter. In fact, there were 18 teams that had more receiving yards in one-quarter of their games than the Ravens’ receiver corps has for their entire careers.
The last time a team had fewer than 1,227 receiving yards in a single season was 1973 when both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills accomplished that feat, though both of those teams still recorded more passing touchdowns (eight for the Bears; four for the Bills) than the Ravens’ receiving corps has for their careers (three).
There are only two receivers on this team that played in an NFL game prior to 2021. They are the most inexperienced set of passing weapons in the NFL. The question is “Will this lack of experience matter?” And for the Ravens, I doubt it. Mark Andrews aside, who obviously has a ton of experience and eclipsed 1,300 yards last season alone, the Ravens have never been a team that leans too heavily on their receivers. They are the only team whose all-time leading wide receiver for a single season posted less than 1,300 yards. The Ravens have always been a run-first team, and with the return of both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards in 2022, there’s no reason to think John Harbaugh and company won’t lean more heavily on the run. I don’t think it’s much of a leap to say that the Ravens could run the ball on 60 percent of their plays.
Prior to 2021, Baltimore had led the league in run play percentage every year with Lamar Jackson as the starter. In 2019, they ran the ball on 57.5 percent of their plays. The next closest team was the San Francisco 49ers, who ran the ball just 51 percent of the time. In 2020, that number jumped up to 57.8 percent for the Ravens. The Patriots were the next closest at 53.3 percent as they scrambled to figure out how to run an offense without Tom Brady.
When fully healthy, the Ravens will have not only their youngest, and most talented, backfield with Jackson at quarterback (yes, I think Edwards and Dobbins are more talented than 30-year-old Mark Ingram and Edwards) but also their least experienced receivers. That is a prime situation for a team that has leaned on the run game for their entire history.
The Ravens may not have had the most efficient rushing attack in the NFL last season, but on designed run plays, they still were able to manage 3.1 yards before contact. That’s very indicative of a great run-blocking offensive line. They added arguably the best center from this year’s draft class in Tyler Linderbaum to that line now. That efficiency is only going to increase with a better backfield and better line. That will open up the play action and should create more space over the middle of the field as linebackers will be more likely to bite on the fake.
No matter how inexperienced a receiver you are, the space created by an effective play-action fake should give you enough space to make a reception as long as you beat your man. The Ravens’ receivers aren’t slow, so if the team can play their offense right and establish the run early, often, and effectively, that is where the team’s receivers will have the opportunity to shine.
The Ravens are sort of going against the grain with how they’ve built their team. I’d like to assume they believe Jackson will be the quarterback of their future for many years to come. However, where most teams might look at their young, franchise, MVP-winning quarterback and try to build around him, the Ravens are instead building around their game plan. Joe Burrow was given Ja’Marr Chase. Justin Herbert was given Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Tua Tagovailoa was given Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Josh Allen got Stefon Diggs. Jackson is being given a tight end, some halfbacks, and a guy with potential we’ve yet to see due to injuries during his rookie season.
It’s a bold strategy and 2022 should be the year that determines how the Ravens go about helping Jackson in the future. If the team’s offense does well, maybe they don’t have to spend huge on big-name receivers in free agency. Maybe they can keep building the defense and O-line during the draft. However, if their offense falters, they’re going to need to add a proven vet to their receiving corps before I’m ready to call them a contender. Maybe that’s why the Ravens have yet to extend Jackson. Perhaps they want to see if he can carry an offense without having to pay for a top-tier wide receiver as the market for such players has exploded in the past couple of years. That’s a very risky maneuver though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it winds up blowing up in their faces should the team and Jackson not reach a deal before he hits the free agent market after the season.