Exploring The Ravens' Wide Receiver Depth Chart Outside Breshad Perriman
For the second straight season, there’s doubt around the status of the Baltimore Ravens’ first-round pick from 2015. Breshad Perriman missed his rookie season with a sprained PCL suffered early in training camp that never got much better. With sights set on taking the field for the first time in 2016, Perriman partially tore his ACL over the weekend, which put another season in jeopardy.
Perriman underwent arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday to determine the severity of the injury, and those results yielded an initial positive sign. It was reported Perriman’s ACL was not fully torn, and instead he received a stem-cell treatment that could allow him to be ready for the start of the season.
But there was similar hope with his injury last year. Perriman wasn’t placed on injured reserve until mid-November as the Ravens held out hope the rookie could at least see some time in the last few games of the regular season.
So now the Ravens hope another season won’t be ended for the receiver, but it’s unknown how healthy Perriman can really be when games start. Of course, knees are tricky things, and they don’t always heal as expected. And if the injection was a “why not” type of procedure -- as FanDuel's Will Carroll put it -- then there should still be some concern.
Perriman's ACL is "torn." It's a Grade II sprain. There's a question about whether it will heal. Doctors disagree so why not try injection?
— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) June 14, 2016
Without Perriman last season, the Ravens had to piece together a receiving corps just to get through the year. Playing from behind often, the Ravens had the fourth-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league. But while they were throwing often, they weren’t very efficient. Baltimore ranked 24th in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) through the air last season. For those new to NEP, it measures the expected points each team adds to its total for the drive on each play relative to historical expectations.
Whether Perriman is able to take the field or not, the group of receivers for the Ravens will have a bit of a new look. What roles should we expect each asset to play?
Even if Perriman is able to be at full health, he might not be above Baltimore’s leading receivers from last season on the depth chart. Steve Smith was Baltimore’s second-most targeted receiver last year even though he only played in seven games. There’s some good and bad in there. Smith was clearly a target machine and was rather successful in that role; he finished 32nd in Reception NEP per target among 123 receivers with at least 32 targets. But Smith’s season was cut short due to a torn Achilles, and earlier this week, he stated there’s still no timetable for his return. Smith turned 37 years old in May, so he likely won’t receive the same workload he did when he was on the field last season, especially after an Achilles injury.
In Smith’s absence, Kamar Aiken became Joe Flacco’s go-to receiver. Aiken finished the season with 127 targets, 83 of which came after Smith’s injury. No one wants to give Kamar Aiken 127 targets in a season, but there was really no alternative for the Ravens.
Aiken, to his credit, wasn’t bad in this role, especially considering he had 32 targets in his previous four seasons in the NFL, all of which came in 2014. He was 61st in Reception NEP per target -- his 0.67 was just above the position average of 0.65 -- and ranked 23rd out of the 32 receivers with at least 100 targets on the year. Aiken will again be a major factor in the passing game, but likely not as much as he was forced to be in the end of 2015.
The Added Veteran
Baltimore's biggest addition at receiver -- at least by name -- was Mike Wallace. Wallace spent years torching the Ravens -- and just about everyone else -- while he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But since leaving Pittsburgh, Wallace has struggled to find success. He was placed in a bigger role than his skill set warranted in Miami, and even as his role was cut down last year in Minnesota, his strengths did not mesh with those of Teddy Bridgewater. This is Mike Wallace’s career in the nicest of terms.
Wallace finished last season ranked 87th among receivers in Reception NEP per target while seeing 72 targets. Wallace still has speed when he wants to flash it, and that could be his saving grace for carving out a role in the Ravens' offense. Flacco has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and isn’t afraid to air it out when needed, though with everything going wrong last year, he had one of the lowest air yards per attempt in the league. Wallace will also turn 30 years old in August, a sign the best might not be ahead for the former Steeler.
The New Guy
Chris Moore was drafted out of Cincinnati in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He’s not high on the depth chart right now, but he flashed the skills in college that could make him an exceptional role player in this offense. Moore doesn’t have the typical speed expected of a deep threat -- he ran a 4.53 40-yard dash -- but he had athleticism and other skills that allowed him to get open deep and also make contested catches when needed. Below he's working against first-round pick William Jackson of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Moore also ranked third among this receiving draft class in a metric we've used here previously called Target Yards Added. The metric simply finds the difference between a college receiver’s yards per target and a quarterback’s yards per attempt to isolate the performance of the receiver relative to the rest of the passing offense. Moore’s production compared favorably to Will Fuller, a first-round pick of the Houston Texans.
While he could be a perfect fit in this offense, his contributions greatly depend on the health of Perriman and the play of Wallace. Both of those things will need to have unfortunate results for the Ravens in order for Moore to see extended time.
In terms of depth, it’s there if based on the simple fact there are bodies currently on the roster. Mike Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Darren Waller, Chris Matthews, and Daniel Brown are all listed on the depth chart. Most were also there for at least parts of 2015 when the Ravens were going through receiver issues, but none made a significant impact.
There’s maybe still hope for Matthews, who will be entering his age-27 season, but he’s failed to replicate his one-game success from Super Bowl XLIX, and he caught just 13 passes last season between the Seattle Seahawks and later Baltimore. Butler was the only one of the group to see any significant playing time in 2015. He ranked 84th in Reception NEP per target on the 44 passes thrown his way, which -- while not great -- was better per-target efficiency than Mike Wallace saw in Minnesota last year. If it again gets down to this group having to make major contributions, then the Ravens will have suffered some significant losses for the second year in a row.
The hope, of course, is that the Perriman news is good, and he’ll be able to see the field soon. That could allow him to be one of the main targets along with Aiken and a healthy Smith. Should that not be the case, the Ravens could be forced to use Wallace more than they’d like to, falling into the same trap Miami and Minnesota were sucked into. Either way, it's clear there aren't many answers here at the moment, and we may not even have that clarity until well into the future.