COMMENTARY | Last season saw Anquan Boldin catch 65 balls for 921 yards. Not big numbers necessarily, but still good enough to account for almost a quarter of the Ravens' passing offense last season. Replacing that production will be crucial for the Ravens to have a chance at defending their Super Bowl title, but who will be the guy to do so remains to be seen.
Realistically, the Ravens will rely on a platoon of players, both established and up-and-coming, to replace that offense. Receivers like Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss will be a part of the solution, but so too will established contributors like Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice.
In fact, it's these established names who could have the biggest increase in production this season.
For the first time in his career, Torrey Smith is the unquestioned No. 1 receiver in Baltimore. He was already getting the majority of coverages rolled his way, but now, the Ravens will likely be forced to look at him as more than just a deep threat. They will likely start using him in a variety of routes, including the underneath routes that Boldin ran so well. That should boost his production and make him the first 1,000 yard receiver the Ravens have ever drafted.
Likewise, Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice should see an increase in both the number and quality of targets. Both Pitta and Rice saw a lot of targets as dump-off targets, where they were asked to make something out of nothing. Sometimes that worked, but more often than not, they were brought down for minimal gain.
Now, the duo should see more passes coming their way on designed passes. Pitta will probably be split out even more than he was in 2012, while Rice could also see some more targets lined up out wide. Both are solid with the ball in their hands, so they should both see more targets designed to get them the ball in space.
Increased production from established starters can only go so far, though. Rice already gets a lot of touches, while Smith was inefficient when targeted last season, catching just 49 balls on 110 targets. Someone new will need to step up.
Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss are the leading candidates, and each brings something different to the table.
Jones is the veteran of the group. He had a legitimate claim to the Super Bowl MVP award, but he's been otherwise underwhelming as a receiver. If given the ball in space, though, he's a legitimate weapon, and his speed and size make him a fearsome deep threat as well. Unfortunately, Jones never developed into a receiving threat despite numerous chances in Houston, so he might be best served coming off the bench on passing situations.
Thompson, meanwhile, may have the highest upside of any receiver on the roster. He is possibly the fastest player on the team, and his body control makes him a big-time threat on deep balls. If Thompson develops his route running and consistency, he will be a breakout player.
Finally, Doss may have the inside track to the job. The third-year pro was drafted just two rounds after Torrey Smith, but he has yet to find similar success. Last season saw Doss struggle with drops, but he's been historically very reliable, and his routes are as good as anyone on the team.
Of course, a veteran pickup is also a possibility. Brandon Lloyd remains on the market, though one has to imagine that if the Ravens really wanted him, he'd already be on the roster. A trade is possible, but unlikely. The most likely option is for the Ravens to wait for other teams' cuts, but that comes with significant risk. Ultimately, the Ravens will need the players already on the roster to step up.
With this in mind, every player mentioned thus far should see a bump in productivity this season. Those looking for a true replacement for Anquan Boldin will be disappointed, but don't expect the Ravens' passing attack to struggle for long. Their receiving corps is too deep and full of young talent for that to happen, even if none of them can make up for Boldin's 921 yards by himself.
Shawn Brubaker lives in Washington, DC. He has been a Baltimore Ravens featured columnist for Bleacher Report for two years and has been published in a variety of other publications.
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- Anquan Boldin
- Torrey Smith
- Jacoby Jones
- Dennis Pitta
- the Ravens
- Tandon Doss
- Deonte Thompson
- Ray Rice