A marquee wide receiver remains conspicuous by his absence on the Baltimore Ravens’ roster. It’s a gamble for the team to head into the new season with so much inexperience among Lamar Jackson’s outside targets.
Jackson is in a contract year, but his primary wideout figures to be second-year man Rashod Bateman, who missed five games through injury as a rookie. There’s also not a lot of production among supporting acts Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace.
What Jackson needs is a proven, big-play specialist. The Ravens can find one if they wait for the right roster cuts, with a controversial former All-Pro predicted to be axed by the Kansas City Chiefs.
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Former NFL Receiving Leader a Fit for Ravens
Josh Gordon has had his share of chances to revive a once-promising NFL career, but the Ravens could offer him his best opportunity yet. Gordon spent last season with the Chiefs, but he made a mere five catches for 32 yards and a single touchdown.
Those were far from impressive numbers for a wideout operating in a pass-heavy offense. The lack of production is one reason why Gordon may struggle to make the Chiefs’ final 53-man roster.
In his full roster predictions, ESPN’s Adam Teicher named another reason why the Chiefs might keep unheralded Daurice Fountain over Gordon: “The top four seem set and it’s difficult to see a place for Josh Gordon if he doesn’t earn a lot of playing time because he doesn’t help on special teams. That’s why I went with Fountain as the spare receiver.”
Ravens’ general manager Eric DeCosta should pay close attention to Gordon’s situation. He’s worth the risk for a team lacking a prolific flanker.
That’s what Gordon used to be during his peak with Baltimore’s AFC North rivals the Cleveland Browns. His best year was 2013 when Gordon led the league with 1,646 yards, in a historic season that ended with All-Pro and Pro-Bowl honors:
Things cratered for Gordon not long after his record-setting campaign. He was suspended for the 2014 season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Another lengthy suspension followed for a similar reason in 2015.
The Browns traded Gordon to the New England Patriots in 2018 for a fifth-round draft pick the following year. It was a modest return for a receiver of his talent, but the measly price the Pats paid reflected how far Gordon’s star had fallen.
Gordon showed some of the old magic in New England, catching 40 passes for 720 yards and three touchdowns during a season that ended with the Patriots winning Super Bowl LIII. Despite the solid numbers, Gordon stepped away in December that year to look after his mental health and serve an indefinite suspension for another violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
While old problems blighted his time with the Patriots and later the Seattle Seahawks, Gordon did prove he’d never lost his ability to stretch the field. He averaged 18 yards per reception in 2018 and reminded everyone of his speed after the catch on this touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019:
Plays like this are missing from the Ravens’ wide receiver room, making Gordon more than worth a risk on a short-term deal, provided he doesn’t stick with the Chiefs.
Ravens Have More Room for Gordon Than the Chiefs
There’s room for another No. 1 wide receiver in Baltimore following the decision to trade Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown to the Arizona Cardinals. Brown led the Ravens with 91 receptions for 1,008 yards in 2021, a far cry from what the rest of the team’s wideouts mustered.
Duverney, Proche and Wallace combined for just 51 catches, 497 yards and two touchdowns. Bateman showed promise by making 46 grabs, but an ongoing groin injury disrupted his debut season and leaves 2021’s first-round pick with a lot to prove.
Of course, there are few players in the league needing to prove themselves more than Gordon. He may get his chance with the Chiefs following the team’s decision to trade Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins.
The Chiefs signed Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Juju Smith-Schuster in free agency, before drafting Skyy Moore. Gordon could replicate Hill’s deep threat, and head coach Andy Reid has been impressed by what he’s seen so far this offseason:
Gordon could play his way into sticking with the Chiefs, but if he doesn’t, the Ravens should be the first team to give him one more chance to deliver on his undoubted talent.