PHOENIX — If you’re a running back or a blocking tight end, the Baltimore Ravens represent the ultimate destination.
If you’re a wide receiver looking to catch 80 passes in a season, Baltimore probably is at the bottom of the list.
For the first time this offseason, the Ravens acknowledged the challenge of luring free-agent receivers to play with Lamar Jackson and their run-heavy offense.
“You’re not going to be a certain type of receiver and want to come play in Baltimore,” coach John Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings. “We have not received phone calls from some guys. That’s OK. I don’t want to hear from those guys. We want rough guys, we want tough guys.”
Harbaugh suggested the idea is to get as many receivers who play in the same vein as former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, who took pride in being more physical than your typical pass-catcher.
When lining up for the Ravens, wide receivers are going to be asked to block just as much as they run routes — and possibly more. Baltimore ran the ball 64 percent of the time after Jackson replaced Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback.
In Jackson’s seven starts, wide receivers were targeted an NFL-low 45 times. The league average over that span was 80.
“The counterargument I would make to the naysayers, because of the offense we’re going to run and the skills of the quarterback that we have, you’re going to get open. You’re going to be more wide open,” Harbaugh said. “And if you’re the kind of guy that wants to catch a ball and go run for a touchdown, if that’s something that appeals to you as a wide receiver, then maybe Baltimore is a place you want to think about. Because you’re going to have an opportunity to do that.”
The group of free-agent wide receivers was considered a weak one this season. Golden Tate and Tyrell Williams both received over $20 million in guaranteed money, and they’ve combined for one Pro Bowl.
General manager Eric DeCosta said earlier this week that he didn’t see free agency as a way to help the Ravens at wide receiver this year. He believes the best way is the draft, but Baltimore currently has just one of the first 84 picks this year.
Harbaugh agreed that the transition for wide receivers from college to the NFL is a difficult one because of the nuances of running routes and the difficulty to get open against more talented cornerbacks. But …
“There’s always a rookie or two every year that proves it wrong,” Harbaugh said. “I think hopefully we’ll get that rookie.”
The Ravens have expressed confidence in the handful of receivers currently on the roster. Harbaugh praised the professionalism of Willie Snead and spoke to backup Chris Moore about this season being his time. He also expressed high expectations for Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott, two mid-round picks from last year who didn’t play a single snap as rookies.
“We may not have household names right now,” Harbaugh said, “but they’ll be household names soon.”