Updated: Jul 2, 2021
During the early part of the offseason, the Ravens Wide Receiver core was thin. With veterans like Dez Bryant, Chris Moore, and Willie Snead IV leaving the team in free agency and players like Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis, and Allen Robinson signing elsewhere, the Ravens sat on the need at Wide Receiver and opted to wait until the price was right before making a move.
The organization then signed Sammy Watkins to a modest one-year deal. Watkins was decent as a fallback option, given that he is a great scheme fit for the Ravens. However, Watkins is extremely injury prone and has not been playing full seasons for the Chiefs, which had him prior to the Ravens signing him. But with 3 receivers leaving the team and having even fewer proven and reliable options, signing Watkins alone was definitely not enough to bolster their passing offense. However, after Eric DeCosta’s press conference response about their receivers, it seemed as though the only addition to the receiving core this offseason would be Watkins.
That was, of course, incorrect.
The Ravens immediately invested 2 picks from their draft capital into the receiving position: a first-rounder on Rashod Bateman and a fourth-rounder on Tylan Wallace. Overnight, a position that was considered thin was suddenly becoming one of the deepest position depths available to the Ravens.
Other than Sammy Watkins, every single one of them is on their rookie contract. Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin are entering Year 3, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II are entering their sophomore season, and Wallace and Bateman are rookies. This wide receiver core is a young group of players with diverse skill sets between them.
Given that the Ravens are still not accustomed to passing as often as running, there is no reason to deprive another position on the roster of depth just to accommodate the 7 available receivers.
So, that brings us to the most important question - who will be the odd man out that does not make the roster?
It is way too early to predict the final rosters, but we can see 5 players already being locks for the 53-man rosters. Watkins and Brown are certainly going into week 1 as starters, with Duvernay operating from the slot and also acting as the team’s primary Return Specialist. Rookies Wallace and Bateman will also likely be part of the rotation at receiver.
That leaves us with 2 players, Proche and Boykin, potentially fighting for a single roster spot. Both receivers have very diverse skill sets and bring different things to the table. Boykin is your traditional X receiver that plays on the left and is also an elite blocker due to his size, which fits the Ravens run scheme. Proche is a traditional slot receiver. Due to his limited offensive action, it is hard to understand what this guy can do. At his best, he is a strong route runner from the slot and makes tough catches in the middle of the field. In the worst-case scenario, Proche profiles as an undersized receiver and lacks the ability to create separation from the defenders.
Boykin started 24 of 33 games in his first 2 seasons, while Proche only saw a handful of snaps on special teams last season, with his sole reception coming in week 11 in the 24-30 loss to the Titans. Proche was the primary punt returner at the start of the season until Duvernay took over the job later in the season, with Proche becoming a healthy scratch.
However, there might be a slight issue in Boykin being able to make the most out of his receptions. Over his career, he has only 32 receptions for 464 yards. These numbers are just underwhelming for someone who ran that many routes and played so many snaps in his career. Some would argue that it's because Lamar Jackson does not look his way often enough. That's true to a certain extent, but it's mainly because he does not make the most out of the targets he receives.
In terms of special teams (which is important), both players are contributors. Proche could take over return duties from Duvernay should he make the team. Boykin is primarily a ‘gunner’ on special teams.
Would the Ravens want to cut their ties with Proche just one season after trading up to draft him in the 6th round of the 2020 NFL Draft? Would they decide that it's time for Boykin and his limited production rate to go, 2 seasons after trading up to draft him in the 2019 NFL Draft and starting 24 games in 2 seasons?
Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure - this positional battle will not end nice, and whichever way the Ravens decide to go, the fanbase (and possibly the organization) will be divided.