Ravens Swap Out Veteran WR For Rookie Against Chargers

Ravens Sammy Watkins

Getty Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins runs with the ball during a Week 2 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, head coach John Harbaugh announced today.

Watkins sustained a hamstring injury during the Ravens’ overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night. He left the game in the second quarter and did not return, though Baltimore’s passing attack hardly skipped a beat without him.

Watkins did not practice this week, which, coupled with Harbaugh’s comments today, suggest that he could be at risk of missing multiple games.

“He could be back next week, could be back the week after,” Harbaugh said today after practice.

Watkins arrived in Baltimore in April as part of a concerted effort by the Ravens’ front office to upgrade quarterback Lamar Jackson‘s receiving targets. Early returns from the veteran wideout have been encouraging, as he caught four passes in each of his first four games with the Ravens, averaging more than 60 yards per game.

His impact on the offense extends far beyond his personal production, as his pedigree of consistent play as an outside receiver has opened up the Ravens’ air attack. With defenses now having to account for Watkins, Mark Andrews and Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown are posting career numbers so far this season.

Andrews has 400 receiving yards in five games, the highest total of any tight end, while Brown’s 451 receiving yards are eight-best among all players.

‘Bateman Begins’

Though the Ravens will be without Watkins on Sunday, they will have 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman on the field, making his NFL debut after a preseason injury forced him onto the injured reserve list to start the season.

Anticipation in Baltimore for the former Minnesota Golden Gopher has reached a fever pitch with Bateman’s first appearance as a Raven just around the corner.

But Harbaugh didn’t fan the flames of the buzz around Bateman’s debut today, only telling media, “You can probably expect him to play in this game, with Sammy being out.”

Hollywood Brown already hinted at Bateman’s activation for Sunday’s game against the Chargers during a Twitch stream earlier this week.

The Ravens have been cautious with Bateman’s recovery, opting to hold him out last week despite his eligibility to be activated against the Colts.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on Monday that Baltimore was considering playing Bateman with a “pitch count,” but ultimately decided to be sure that Bateman was at 100%.

Expect Bateman to split time with 2019 third-rounder Miles Boykin, who made his season debut on Monday but only played 15 snaps on special teams and zero on offense.

Still, Bateman’s addition to the offense could have a big impact later in the season. ESPN’s Louis Riddick hyped up the 27th pick in this year’s draft yesterday, saying “this kid is the TRUTH.”

Jackson, Villanueva Return to Practice

After missing practice yesterday due to an illness, Lamar Jackson returned as a full participant today, receiving no injury designation for Sunday’s game.

Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva also returned, practicing in a limited capacity today. He’s listed as questionable on the Ravens’ injury report, but he’s still expected to start against the Chargers on Sunday. He played all 73 of the Ravens’ offensive snaps against the Colts after suffering an ankle injury during a Week 4 matchup with the Denver Broncos.

Safeties DeShon Elliott and Geno Stone fully participated in practice after missing Monday’s game, though they are still listed as questionable for Sunday.

Tight end Nick Boyle, who has yet to play this year after a knee injury ended his 2020 season, is “progressing well,” according to Harbaugh. Boyle was placed on short-term injured reserve to start the season and is eligible to be activated once he’s healthy enough to play.

“He’s getting close…he looks good in his workouts,” said Harbaugh.

The injury updates are a welcome reminder for the Ravens that their team is likely to get stronger as the year goes on, despite a slew of preseason injuries. Along with Boyle and Watkins, Baltimore is expected to have offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Chris Westry, rookie outside linebacker Daelin Hayes, defensive lineman Derek Wolfe and offensive lineman Tyre Phillips at some point this season, with no clear prognosis for rookie offensive guard Ben Cleveland, who was carted off the field on Monday.