As the Baltimore Ravens entered the season, arguably the biggest concern for the offense was whether or not they could find production from within the receiving corps.
After they traded Anquan Boldin in a cap-saving move, the problem was exacerbated by the injury to dependable tight end Dennis Pitta, who chipped in with 61 catches last season. What was left was a mixture of unproven young talent and scrap-heap veterans. Even their most explosive and established player, Torrey Smith, was a question mark, as his ability to take over without an exceptional possession receiver like Boldin to complement his game-breaking speed was far from a sure thing.
Since then, Smith has turned that question mark into an exclamation point. Smith is third in the league in receiving yards, as he has averaged well over 100 per game thus far. Smith still has work to do with his route-running and red zone credibility, two aspects that Boldin excelled in, as he has only one touchdown to go with all those yards and targets.
Smith’s game should develop in both of those areas, but they may never prove to be his strengths. The player that can step into the role vacated by Boldin, and already has to some degree, is undrafted rookie Marlon Brown.
As the Ravens entered the season, they practically begged young veterans Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson and Ed Dickson to step up and earn integral roles in the offense. Instead, the standout complementary receiver has been the 6-foot-5 Brown, who has caught three of Joe Flacco‘s five touchdown passes on the year, even though he missed the last game with a gimpy hamstring.
Brown is the third on the team in receiving yards, behind Smith and ageless tight end Dallas Clark. Brown has already proven to be a viable red zone threat, and as he develops and matures as a player, he could be the third-down safety blanket Flacco has missed with the departure of Boldin and the injury to starting tight end Dennis Pitta.
Looking forward, the Ravens have the potential to be even better in the passing game than they were last year. Smith is in the midst of a pro bowl breakout season, Brown should be back soon and will only get better with time, and deep threat Jacoby Jones‘ return is on the horizon. Pitta is eligible to come off the injured reserve in Week 9, but it remains to be seen if he will be ready to go before the end of the season. If he is, the duo of Clark and Pitta is a better prospect than last year’s tight end platoon of Pitta and Dickson, a once-promising prospect whose habit of dropping first downs will soon run him out of town.
With a five-man corps of Smith, Brown, Jones, Pitta and Clark, there is no questioning this unit’s talent. The question is whether or not they can make the biggest catches in the biggest moments, and help the Ravens defend their Super Bowl title.