Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is widely regarded as one of the best executives in the NFL. He has overseen two Super Bowl titles, a handful of division titles, and since John Harbaugh was hired and Joe Flacco was drafted in 2008, Baltimore has made the playoffs six times, advanced to the AFC Championship on three occasions, and captured one Lombardi Trophy.
But even the best general managers have their Achilles’ heel, and Newsome’s biggest weakness is his ability to draft a capable wide receiver. Torrey Smith was easily the best receiver Newsome has drafted, and although Smith certainly was a key contributor to the Ravens’ recent success, he is far from a No. 1 target. Baltimore’s willingness to let Smith walk in free agency this year speaks volumes about the team’s faith in him–though the Ravens’ tight salary cap situation was also a major factor in that decision–and very few of the receivers the team has drafted have gone on to become impact players.
As a result, the Ravens have increasingly turned to veterans like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Smith, Sr. to fill the void. Given the quality performances of those players, many believed that the Ravens would pursue another veteran this offseason. But the team probably could not have afforded first-tier options like Jeremy Maclin and Randall Cobb, and it has shown little to no interest in the next tier of free agents, which includes players like Michael Crabtree and Hakeem Nicks (though the Ravens reportedly were interested in Mike Wallace if the Dolphins had released him).
Baltimore therefore looks prepared to head into the draft with a capable but aged Steve Smith and a host of talented but largely unproven players like Michael Campanaro, Kamar Aiken, and Marlon Brown. All of those players, Smith included, are possession receivers and do not really have the ability to stretch a defense like Torrey Smith, or even Jacoby Jones, did.
But as Mike Preston of The Baltimore Sun points out, there will most likely be big-play talent on the board when the Ravens are on the clock with their No. 26 overall selection. Indeed, players like Jaelen Strong, Devin Smith, and Dorial Green-Beckham may all be on the board. The problem is that Newsome’s track record as it pertains to wide receivers works against him, and his strict adherence to the best player available approach suggests the team may not even take a wideout in the first several rounds. The front office, in addition to hyping the players already on the roster, has noted that this year’s class is a deep one, with a lot of talent available throughout the draft.
Those words may not be reassuring to Ravens fans, who vividly remember the team trading Boldin after winning the Super Bowl in 2012 and going into 2013 with Torrey Smith and a lot of question marks. In addition to poor offensive line play, the lack of receiving depth doomed the 2013 campaign and led to the Ravens’ missing the playoffs for the only time in the Harbaugh/Flacco era.
Newsome, who spoke about learning from his past mistakes in terms of drafting receiving talent, has assuredly learned from his 2013 missteps as well. As such, if the Ravens do not land one of the top receivers in this year’s draft, one would think that the team would target one of the remaining free agent options, or perhaps try to trade for someone like Pierre Garcon. But until that happens, the Ravens’ lack of proven receiving talent–the team also has major question marks at tight end, given that Crockett Gillmore is currently at the top of the depth chart–represents one of the few glaring holes on an otherwise talented roster. And Newsome will have to buck past trends in order to fill that hole.