Ravens ‘Prototypical Field-Stretcher’ Could Become Immediate Star

Ravens WR Zay Flowers

Getty Ravens WR Zay Flowers could have an instant impact as a rookie given all the talent around him.

In the past, it sometimes took offensive players outside of running backs and offensive linemen a while to start and make significant impacts for the respective teams in their first few years in the league and especially as rookies.

Over the last decade, that trend has drastically shifted in the other direction. Young quarterbacks, especially those drafted high, rarely sit for a year or two and are often inserted as the starter before the end of their rookie seasons.

With the proliferation of the passing game and emphasis put on skills training at the youth level, rookie receivers are entering the league more refined and ready to hit the ground running at a much higher rate.

The last two Offensive Rookie of the Year award recipients have been wideouts and Minnesota Vikings‘ three-time Pro Bowler Justin Jefferson finished second to Los Angeles Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert in AP voting for the honor in 2020 according to Pro Football Reference.

According to the Heavy’s own resident NFL insider, Matt Lombardo, Baltimore Ravens first-round rookie receiver Zay Flowers has a strong chance of making it three years in a row for his position group winning the prestigious honor.

He listed the former Boston College star at No.5 in his recent article ‘5 NFL Offensive Rookies Who Could Be Immediate Stars’ and believes that “there might not be a rookie receiver who fell into a better position” to have instant success than Flowers in Baltimore.

“Flowers is a prototypical field-stretcher with 4.2 40-yard dash speed, and he lands in an offense where he’ll be on the receiving end of passes from Lamar Jackson and surrounded by playmakers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman who will command plenty of attention from opposing defenses,” Lombardo wrote.

The only other receiver on the list was former Ohio State star Jaxon Smith-Njigba of the Seattle Seahawks who was ranked No. 2 behind Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson.

Smith-Njigba was the first player at the position taken in this year’s draft and also landed in a very favorable situation where he’ll have Pro Bowl veterans D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett commanding a lot of attention which will open up a lot of space for him to make plays, especially out of the slot.

Flowers Could be ‘Biggest Beneficiary’ of Offensive Shift

While the Ravens’ offense was one that featured the wide receiver position the least amount of any in the league the past four years since Jackson became the full-time starter and their unit was the least productive in the entire league last season although injuries played a significant factor.

However, with former offensive coordinator Greg Roman out and Todd Monken in to replace who has already vowed to strive for more balance and lean less on Jackson’s electric rushing ability, Lombardo believes that the first-round rookie wideout could benefit greatly from this highly-anticipated change in philosophy.

“If Baltimore becomes an offense that pushes the ball vertically downfield, and Jackson continues to make the strides as a passer he showed prior to getting injured last season, Zay stands to be the biggest beneficiary,” he wrote.

The evolution of the Ravens’ offense and both the health and continued maturation of their former unanimous league MVP-winning quarterback will be key to not only Flowers’ individual success but the entire team’s chances at making a deep playoff run and hopefully a Super Bowl.

Ravens Offense Projected to be Among Top-10 Most Explosive in 2023

Lombardo also recently wrote an article listing the offenses that he believes will be the most explosive in the league this upcoming season and had the Ravens rounding out the top 10.

“The Ravens took care of Lamar Jackson this offseason, and not just by making him the highest-paid quarterback in league history,” he wrote. “Baltimore made a big splash by signing veteran field-stretcher Odell Beckham Jr. and also drafted speedster Zay Flowers, who averaged 15.3 Yards per Reception over the course of his collegiate career at Boston College.

“While Mark Andrews remains, as a prolific red-zone weapon and security blanket over the middle for Jackson, added speed on the perimeter should allow Jackson to take advantage of the deep ball more often in 2023.”

The Ravens also have a pair of second-year tight ends behind Andrews on the depth chart in Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar who are also dangerous targets over the middle of the field that are capable of stretching the seam of opposing defenses and making explosive plays with the ball in their hands.

Even though they’re striving for more balance between the run and the pass than there has been in years past, the Ravens still expect to field a dominant rushing attack and have the running backs to make it happen.

Both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards will be two years removed from suffering their respective major knee injuries when the season gets underway. Veteran Justice Hill was re-signed in free agency and looked good working with the first-team offense during Organized Team Activities and mandatory minicamps according to reports.

They could also have a potential ace in the hole in waiting with explosive undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell. The Ravens’ legacy product could carve out a role for himself early on in his rookie year if Dobbins threatens a holdout as he seeks a new contract or if Mitchell simply shows enough consistent flashes in both training camp and the preseason.