Ravens Urged to Acquire WR Compared to Justin Jefferson

Justin Jefferson

Getty The Ravens can acquire a WR compared to Vikings' 3-time Pro-Bowler Justin Jefferson.

Try as they might, the Baltimore Ravens are unable to fix their problems at wide receiver. Multiple draft picks have been spent on the position, only to yield more failure, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens should give up trying to select a true playmaking wideout.

The solution is available in the 2023 NFL draft, according to ESPN’s Jordan Reid. He’s named Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba as the ideal first-round pick for the Ravens.

It makes sense considering Smith-Njigba has been explosive at the collegiate level, particularly from the slot. His talents have earned him favorable comparison to Minnesota Vikings’ Pro-Bowler Justin Jefferson by NFL Rookie Watch founder Bradon Deacon:

A pass-catcher as versatile and dynamic as Jefferson would instantly transform Baltimore’s stagnant wide receiver corps.

Next Jefferson Perfect for Ravens

Reid outlined what makes Smith-Njigba an “ideal fit” for the Ravens, and why the franchise should call his name next April, despite recent draft missteps: “The Ravens haven’t been shy about drafting receivers (eight over the past five drafts, including two first-rounders), but they really need one to work out long-term. Over the past three seasons, Baltimore is last in the NFL in WR receiving yards by a good margin (5,551, more than 800 yards shy of the next-worst team). After playing mostly in the slot during his career with the Buckeyes, Smith-Njigba is an ideal fit here in a pass offense centered around concepts built off the run game. Smith-Njigba only appeared in three games this season after battling a hamstring injury, but he went for more than 1,600 yards in 2021.”

A few things form Reid’s analysis stand out. The first concerns Smith-Njigba’s experience in the slot, an area he dominated from in 2021, according to CFB Film Room and SIS:

A prolific target from the slot would soon find a home in a Ravens’ passing game geared to attack between the hashmarks. As Reid pointed out, the Ravens tailor many of their pass plays off of what they do on the ground, so play-action strikes to in-breaking receivers are often the easiest way to travel.

That’s one reason why quarterback Lamar Jackson has made All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews his go-to weapon. Jackson still doesn’t have a new long-term contract, but he’d be more likely to re-up if the Ravens equipped him with a wideout capable of making big plays.

Smith-Njigba qualifies thanks to a flair for turning short-to-intermediate throws into game-breaking gains, something he showcased against Nebraska back in November ’21:

Smith-Njigba’s highlight reel isn’t filled with nothing but yards gained after short catches. He also knows how to take the top off of a defense, the way he did from 30 yards against Utah in the Rose Bowl a year ago:

His ability to beat defenses in a variety of ways from the inside would soon make him a favorite of Jackson’s. It’s also why the 20-year-old reminds people of the league’s leading receiver.

Jefferson Comparison One Ravens Can’t Ignore

Jefferson’s utter dominance of defensive backs during the last three seasons make it easy to forget he was once lauded more for his work from the slot than on the outside. Yet, that was the player’s profile coming out of LSU and the 2020 NFL draft, per Vikings Territory writer Nick Olson:

Jefferson has certainly played above the expectations of draft evaluators since. He’s emerged as a legitimate deep threat from anywhere on the field during a campaign in which he’s tallied an NFL-best 1,771 yards and 27 catches of 20 yards or more.

Numbers like those encourage many to think of Jefferson as more than a mere slot receiver. Such thoughts do the position an injustice, because slot receivers aren’t just there to catch short slants underneath.

Modern passing schemes have expanded the possibilities for the position and made longer routes and vertical strikes more common. Jefferson has helped champion the change by positing statistics no other slot in recent memory can match, according to Doug Clawson of CBS Sports, citing numbers from Pro Football Focus:

The Vikings know how to use Jefferson’s speed and moves on the inside to create long gains. A great example came during Week 16’s 27-24 win over the New York Giants and was highlighted by Matt Fries of the Kindred Skols Podcast:

Plays like this are what’s missing from the Ravens’ passing game. The reason is obvious. There’s simply a dearth of flexibility and skills on the depth chart.

The problem is best summed up by CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr, who took Ravens wideouts to task for how they played against the Pittsburgh Steelers last time out: “Baltimore’s wide receivers have the fewest receiving yards in the league going into Week 17. Somehow, they were even more ineffective than they’ve been all year in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. DeMarcus Robinson and DeSean Jackson were the only two receivers with a catch. Both players combined for two catches for 18 yards and Sammy Watkins wasn’t targeted at all. Baltimore typically has just one wideout on the field, so that doesn’t help matters.”

Adding somebody with Smith-Njigba’s all-round game would offer Jackson more ways to gash defenses through the air, even though his selection would still be a risk. Hamstring problems limited Smith-Njigba to just three games in 2022, but he’s been a big-time player when healthy.

He proved his big-game creds by snagging 15 receptions for a bowl-game record 346 yards against Utah:

Smith-Njigba can be the type of prolific inside weapon oft-injured 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman has yet to become for the Ravens.

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