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The Ravens upgraded their wide receiver corps last season by signing proven veterans T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth to one-year contracts.
Now, Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta is envisioning a different strategy in 2011.
Baltimore could look to the draft to address their needs at wideout and help quarterback Joe Flacco.
“I think it’s important to get a bunch of guys here that are going to be here for a while that can work with Joe and develop a great relationship with Joe long-term,” DeCosta said.
“If you bring in a younger player, he comes in here from Day 1 and hits the ground running and is all the time working, I think that’s really good long-term moving forward for our team.”
The only receiver that Flacco has had for all three years he’s been in the league is Derrick Mason, 37. Tight end Todd Heap, another one of his primary targets, has also been a mainstay.
Houshmandzadeh and Stallworth are both unrestricted free agents and it’s unknown whether they will return. Anquan Boldin, rookie David Reed, special teams ace Marcus Smith and practice squad players Justin Harper and James Hardy are the team’s other receivers.
The Ravens saw the benefit of getting younger at wideout firsthand when facing the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh drafted Mike Wallace in the third round in 2009 and Emmanuel Sanders in the third round of 2010 and Antonio Brown in the sixth.
Wallace is now the team’s big-play threat and Sanders and Brown are slowly phasing out veteran Hines Ward. Sanders and Brown made key receptions against the Ravens in their divisional matchup.
“[Ben Roethlisberger's] been able to bring these guys together and work with them, develop a relationship,” DeCosta said. “I think between the quarterback and receivers, you’ve got to have that kind of relationship. That’s the most critical thing is be in sync at all times.”
When evaluating receivers, DeCosta said the ideal is players like the Texans’ Andre Johnson or Lions’ Calvin Johnson. But they’re rare, high first-round talents.
DeCosta said he generally finds players who either have height to go up and make plays or speed receivers. He said speed would be good for the team, but is primarily looking for a playmaker.
“[We like] the guy that has the ability to make a play, whether it’s with his feet running by people after the catch or being a guy like an Anquan Boldin, who is covered at times but still has the ability to pluck the ball, break a tackle and make a play,” DeCosta said.