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Drafting wide receivers has historically been a tough task for the Baltimore Ravens.
A number of drafted prospects haven’t lived up to expectations, and the organization’s top receivers have primarily come to Baltimore through free agency.
“I think wideout is a tough position, and historically that has not been probably one of our easiest positions to evaluate,” Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta said. “We’ve had some big misses over the years.”
But last year the Ravens hit big with Torrey Smith, who had a historically impressive rookie season.
Are there any lessons Baltimore can take from drafting Smith and apply it to this year’s draft, where many draftniks have the franchise grabbing another receiver in the early rounds?
DeCosta On Drafting WR
“I think with Torrey, one of the biggest things is that he’s wired right,” DeCosta said. “Mentally, this is a guy who grew up in a tough environment. He grew up under difficult circumstances.”
The second-round pick out off Maryland notched 841 receiving yards and a team-high seven touchdown catches last year. His receptions (50), receiving yards and touchdowns were the most ever by a Ravens rookie.
His success in the NFL came after a tough upbringing.
Smith grew up the oldest of seven kids and he often served as the man of the house by helping cook meals or change diapers for his younger siblings. His mother also spent some time in jail, but Smith stayed out of trouble and graduated with a degree from Maryland before entering the NFL draft.
Overcoming that set of circumstances as a child helped prepare him for the challenges of the NFL.
“He came in and he dropped some balls early on. Teammates get on him, he rebounds,” DeCosta said. “He’s a hard-minded guy, devoted to his craft. He was out there working out every single day. He never got down, and if he did, he never showed that to his teammates. He eventually made a few plays, he gained some more confidence, he’s more sure of himself and I think he’s going to be a great pro for us.”
Smith’s tough mentality, which he showed early on by shaking off some dropped passes during the pre-season, is exactly the kind of makeup the Ravens look for in a receiver.
“I think a big part of that is really personality, discipline, work ethic,” DeCosta said.
The challenge in evaluating wide receivers, DeCosta said, is less about assessing a player’s physical tools and more related to getting a feel for his attitude.
The intangibles – like character and behavior – are more critical in evaluating a wide receiver than many of the other positions because it’s a spot where players often have to overcome early mistakes and need to have a short memory.
“It’s not all about how a guy does at the combine; how does he jump, how does he run, how does he catch?” DeCosta said. “It’s about personality. Can he handle adversity? Can he overcome a drop? Is he going to make a big play in a critical situation? All of those things kind of factor in.”