July 1, 2021

Are Any Baltimore Ravens Wide Receivers Worth Drafting in Fantasy Football?

The Baltimore Ravens continued to be one of the most unique offenses in the league last season. Quarterback Lamar Jackson, fresh off his MVP season in 2019, continued to dominate on the ground and took positive steps as a passer in his third campaign. However, his progress wasn't enough, as the Ravens' passing game again fell short in the playoffs.

Fantasy football managers have grown to be skeptical of the possible payoff for owning any of Jackson's targets. Marquise Brown proved to be an asset in the second half of the season, totaling 769 receiving yards on the season. But the team's leading receiver had nine games under 42 yards, so his touchdown flurry that featured six scores in the team's final six weeks carried his production.

What can fantasy owners expect out of a revamped unit entering 2021? Outside of the obvious tight end target, Mark Andrews, the Ravens' receiving corps has the talented but inconsistent Sammy Watkins, Brown, and first-round rookie Rashod Bateman headlining the unit.

Adding legitimate weapons around Jackson and Brown was the right priority. More work had to be done, though, and the Ravens have acknowledged some of their other deficiencies. Jackson is a proficient passer and extremely smart, but his lack of touch and reliable accuracy into tight windows has been an issue. Defenses find success consistently when playing with lead against Jackson and the Ravens' offense.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman spoke earlier this offseason about the schematic issues within the unit as well. They don't create favorable route combinations or especially effective situations for their playmakers to thrive in. Getting better one-on-one receivers will help, but Roman must unlock Jackson's passing prowess more with his play designs and playcalling.

We're going to project each of the top-three Ravens' receivers to see who will emerge, if anyone will, as a legitimate fantasy option in 2021.

Marquise Brown

2020 stats: 58 receptions, 769 yards, eight touchdowns, 125 fantasy points

Brown is a fun, explosive playmaker who can take a slant to the house with ease. His acceleration is among the best in the league, and this allows him to demand significant attention from defenses. Allowing Brown to be single-covered without safety help is a massively dangerous proposition.

His progress as a route-runner showed throughout his breakout sophomore season. Brown is a terror to guard on an island with emerging footwork and feel for when to get upfield. It was clear on film by the end of the season Brown had what it took to be a well-rounded threat who can consistently win on timing routes as well as explosive plays.

Jackson hasn't shown he can find receivers who win on timing routes, though. This is a major concern for the unit's effectiveness and fantasy outlook. Jackson attempted 25 or more passes in just eight games last year. Can Brown win the majority of those attempts and break 1,000 receiving yards?

I believe he'll see a bump across the board. Brown had 100 targets in 2020 but just 58 receptions. Jackson should be more efficient and replicate those 100 targets as Brown leads the team again in that area. Roman and Jackson must go out of their comfort zone and force passing plays to spur development, and the receivers will benefit.

What I don't see is a 1,000-yard season, though. The talent jump from Willie Snead and Miles Boykin to Watkins and Bateman is massive. Those two had just 81 targets go their way last year, and the only way their replacements see so few is if Watkins gets injured again.

Brown has good upside but not enough to rely on as more than a flex play or rotational starter against slower secondaries.

Sammy Watkins

2020 stats: 37 receptions, 421 yards, two touchdowns, 50 fantasy points

The Ravens tried to land several other veteran receivers before settling on Watkins. Cost played a factor here, and the reason Watkins was available for so little was his durability. The mercurial talent has missed 24 games since his rookie season, and 14 in the last three seasons. 

Watkins is fast, powerful, and an underrated route-runner. Kansas City found him more useful as a threat than a playmaker, but that's more associated with the effectiveness of their other stars than Watkins. Make no mistake that the Chiefs valued Watkins and benefitted from his presence.

Jackson needs to use Watkins as a playmaker and not just a threat. Watkins has compiled 87 first downs in the last three years, and almost as many yards after the catch as before. Not a single player besides Brown on this receiver depth chart can claim to be that much of a well-rounded threat with the ball in his hands.

I can absolutely see Watkins have a career-revitalizing campaign if he can stay on the field. He's worth a late flier, and will be picked up quickly off the waiver wire if he makes it there. 

Treat Watkins as a fifth receiver who can absolutely play when he's healthy. His value is higher than this but we simply can't trust him. The Ravens should give Watkins as big of a role as they can but as fantasy managers, we must view them in a different light. 

Rashod Bateman

Career stats (at Minnesota): 147 receptions, 2,395 yards, 19 touchdowns

Projecting a rookie into an offense supposedly changing its base form and has added several bodies to the mix (Watkins and Tylan Wallace) is difficult. Bateman is quite good and should be an immediate contributor from several positions. He can win on the outside or be a thick-slot body who produces post-catch.

Bateman will benefit anytime Watkins isn't available, of course. His worst case is falling behind Boykin or Wallace, but neither has shown the same level of polish or talent as he was able to at Minnesota. Bateman's strong hands and excellent body control should separate him from his peers.

Aside from touchdown numbers, Jerry Jeudy's rookie campaign is likely Bateman's ceiling. Jeudy caught 52 passes for 856 yards with horrible quarterback play. Bateman will have a better passer, but his situation is less promising due to the dominant run game and quality of Baltimore's defense. It's unlikely Jackson will hit even 425 pass attempts even in a 17-game season.

Bateman is someone to invest in late as a WR5 like Watkins, but be willing to move off him if he's slow to produce early on. His value will bounce back late in the season as his game develops and Baltimore expands their offense more. 

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