The Baltimore Ravens have been searching for a wide receiver capable of consistently winning and making plays on the outside for nearly a decade, ever since they traded away Anquan Boldin in the offseason following their 2012 Super Bowl-winning season.
Their quest to find a big-bodied playmaker to line up at the ‘X’ receiver spot has included recycling through seasoned veterans, draft picks as early as the first round and as late as the sixth, and undrafted free agents to no avail, although Marlon Brown showed some promise as an undrafted rookie in 2013.
While it’s still too early to tell and unfair to compare him to a future Hall of Famer like Boldin, the Ravens might have just stumbled upon their diamond in the rough in undrafted rookie Shemar Bridges. The former Fort Valley State College standout joined fourth-round rookie tight end Isaiah Likely as the two brightest stars in the team’s 23-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 of the preseason on August 11, 2022.
The small-school product knew that he had to make the most of his opportunities in a live game against an opposing team and did just that with a very strong performance against the Titans. He showed off his ability to go up and come down with contested catches and even some nuanced route running on his way to recording a team-leading 62 receiving yards and a touchdown on four catches.
“I wanted to just come in this game and just show that I can play big and do it on a consistent level,” Bridges said in his postgame press conference on August 11. “I feel like I did alright with that. I got a lot more work to put in. Just got to stay humble and keep going.”
He was determined to put some of the same strong flashes he showed in practice as pass catcher, run blocker, and special teams contributor on tape for the coaches.
“I just try to make an impact and do whatever I’ve got to do,” Bridges said.
At 6-foot-4, he towers over most defensive backs he lines up against and says he likes to use his length, weight and sheer size to “catch over people and to box people out.” On his 14-yard touchdown, he did exactly that when he boxed out a Titans defender to haul in the impressive score on a back shoulder fade, which is often a go-to route for bigger receivers.
“I feel like I’m a big receiver who can play big,” Bridges said. “But also, I feel like I’m learning how to run routes, and get better at running routes, and being able to be flexible and versatile with my size.”
During his time with the Ravens, Boldin’s most memorable and timely plays came when in situations where he used his size advantage to make clutch plays for touchdowns and key conversions.
Having that kind of weapon on the outside would help quarterback Lamar Jackson elevate his play even more and be a great complement opposite of second-year wideout Rashod Bateman, who is expected to break out in 2022.
Ending Up in Baltimore
Bridges said the Ravens were one of the most aggressive teams in pursuit of him following the draft. He felt like the fit was great and the opportunity to make the team was good especially given that they traded away one of their top receivers and didn’t take one in the draft.
“I felt like it was a good situation,” Bridges said. “I met one of the scouts who really helped me get here at an HBCU Bowl. I just ran from it there. Through other relationships, I thought it was a great situation, and I love it here.”
While his stock is certainly on the rise after a hot start to training camp and preseason, he knows that his spot on the final 53-man roster is far from secure. He is highly motivated to not only make the team but make a name for himself in the league and knows that entails being more than just a talented pass catcher.
“I just got to keep working hard, keep grinding, do stuff on special teams, and just keep going hard, and just improve on things that I need to improve on,” Bridges said.
Impressions & Outlook From Coaches
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman agrees with the first-year wideout that his game could use some refinement. Nevertheless, he is happy about where Bridges currently is in his development and said “he’s doing a nice job.”
“He’s a good young prospect that’s really flashing,” Roman said in a press conference on August 14. “All of those young guys, they’re working every day on those different tools, and I think he is a very diligent worker.”
Bridges didn’t get a chance to play special teams as much in the second half of the preseason opener as he did in the first, but he has still been performing well on those units in practice and will get more opportunities in the remaining two exhibition games.
“He has done a good job, and we’ve got to just find ways to put him in the right position and just let him go play,” special teams coordinator Chris Horton said in the August 14 press conference. “He’ll play a little bit more on [special] teams than he played last week. Just certain things happened throughout the course of the game, where we didn’t punt [in] the second half, so he didn’t get a chance to play gunner. But he’ll get a chance to showcase his skills.”