During free agency, the Ravens have so far added John Brown, and Michael Crabtree, the latter of which was a move lauded by most of the fanbase. Perhaps lost in the talk of who they were going to add was the importance of who was subtracted: Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin. While Maclin was considered a major disappointment, the loss of the Ravens top receiver from last year means that on the aggregate, these were net lateral moves at best at the wide receiver position.
Production Gained vs Production Lost
Mike Wallace appeared in 15 games last season, in which the Ravens dropped back to pass 572 times, including sacks. Wallace racked up a total of 748 receiving yards in those games, for a total impact of 1.31 yards per dropback. Jeremy Maclin appeared in 12 games, which saw a total of 419 Ravens dropbacks. Maclin accumulated 440 receiving yards in those games, which gives him 1.05 yards per dropback. Overall, the Ravens need to replace 2.36 yards per dropback after the departures of Maclin and Wallace.
To replace this lost production, the Ravens signed Michael Crabtree and John Brown. Crabtree saw 507 Raiders dropbacks in 14 games with them last season. Those dropbacks resulted in 618 receiving yards from Crabtree for an average of 1.22 yards per dropback. John Brown had an extremely underwhelming 299 receiving yards for the Cardinals last season. The Cardinals did only drop back to pass 398 times in games in which Brown appeared, but his yards per dropback was still only 0.75. This means that the Ravens new signings combined for only 1.97 yards per team pass play.
2.36 lost vs 1.97 gained is a pretty big difference, and it is extremely unlikely that these moves constitute any sort of improvement. One could argue that Brown and to some extent Crabtree had disappointing seasons last year, and will rebound. While this is true, Wallace and Maclin also lost hundreds of yards from their 2016 totals. Another argument is that the new duo will be cheaper and better value thanks to the offloading of Maclin’s base salary. However, Wallace alone only comes 0.66 yards per dropback from the combined total of Crabtree and Brown. If the Ravens kept Wallace, they could likely still do better by replacing Maclin with a late FA cut-rate bargain big acquisition, or ideally just shelling out the extra cash to pair Crabtree with Wallace. While the Eagles were able to sign him for only $2.5 million, it would probably have cost the Ravens more than that to compete with an offer from a top contender.
Top receivers generally stay with the teams that drafted them, so if the Ravens want one, they’ll probably have to get one through the draft. Fortunately, this year’s draft has more options for first round receiver than last year did. Calvin Ridley (Alabama), DJ Moore (Maryland), Courtland Sutton (SMU), Christian Kirk (Texas A&M), and James Washington (Oklahoma State), are all considered possible first round picks by the NFL draft punditry. Despite dealing with arguably the worst QB play of the bunch, DJ Moore lead all the above receivers with 3.25 yards per team pass attempt. The next closest receiver was James Washington, who managed 3.08 while catching passes from Mason Rudolph. (Bear in mind college stats don’t count sacks separately from QB rushes, so the numbers are a bit inflated.) I would definitely count myself among the fans who endorse taking DJ Moore with our first round pick. While DJ Moore wasn’t hyped as a first round pick until after the combine, where he posed the 3rd fastest short shuttle, 2nd highest vertical, and farthest broad jump among receivers, his college production indicates that he probably should have been considered one all along. He clearly has the physical skillset, and has parlayed that into results on the field.
While I generally advocate taking the best player available, mainly because its tough to tell what team needs will be 2-4 years later, the Ravens pass offense is in critical condition. No team gained fewer yards per pass play last year than the Ravens, and pass offense drives wins and losses more than anything else in the NFL. The Ravens need to invest everything into making their pass offense better. Last time fans wanted a Maryland receiver, the Ravens passed on Stefon Diggs, and while past misses shouldn’t be dwelt on too much, there is plenty other reason to take Moore in the first.