When Devin Duvernay fell to the Baltimore Ravens in the third round at pick No. 92, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh let out plenty of emotion — two fist pumps and a big smile.
Harbaugh’s celebration encapsulated exactly why Baltimore sought-after a wide receiver like Duvernay as a late third round steal.
Behind their electric quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have built a versatile offense under creative offensive play-caller Greg Roman. The ground game is the foundation of Roman’s scheme — the Ravens led the NFL in rushing yards per game (206.0) and yards per attempt (5.5) last season. Because of Jackson’s legs, Baltimore’s heavy option-based scheme has made it extremely difficult for opposing defenses to defend the run.
While primarily lining up in the pistol formation, Baltimore has the luxury to run downhill and attack both sides of the field without its formation tipping which direction the plays are going.
The focal point of improving their offense towards a championship-caliber level starts with complementing option runs with a more effective passing game. And it starts at the wide receiver position. That’s why they went out and drafted a player like Duvernay.
In drafting Duvernay, Baltimore added a deep threat with blazing speed who also has the strong hands and separation ability to serve as a security blanket for Jackson. In fact, he may be the most sure-handed wide receiver in this year’s rookie class. Harbaugh mentioned that he couldn’t recall seeing a single dropped pass while watching film on Duvernay throughout his college career.
At 5’11 and 200 pounds, Duvernay possesses the skillset of a running back playing wide receiver. He ranked third in the nation in yards after the catch and yards after contact last season. He also led the country in broken tackles (14) on short passes, per Pro Football Focus.
Last season, Ravens wide receivers ranked dead last in the NFL in receptions and receiving yards. A receiving corp of Willie Snead IV, Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin, and a banged-up Marquise Brown combined for just 43 percent of the team’s total receiving yards. Tight ends Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle combined for more receptions and yards.
In a 28-12 playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, Jackson attempted 59 passes. Titans defensive-minded head coach Mike Vrabel had the blueprint to slow down Baltimore’s lethal rushing attack, forcing Jackson to beat them through the air. As the Ravens were chasing points trailing by two scores for the majority of the game, Jackson’s receivers weren’t helping the cause. In total, they dropped six passes throughout the game — Baltimore’s 34-percent drop rate ranked 18th in the NFL. And just like that, Jackson’s MVP season was over in the divisional round.
While Jackson critics will be quick to blame him for inaccuracy as a passer, his 66.1 completion percentage was comparable to some of the league’s best quarterbacks — Patrick Mahomes (65.9) and Russell Wilson (66.1). There were only eight starting quarterbacks who had a better completion percentage last season.
Former NFL running back LaDanian Tomlinson said on NFL Total Access that the former Longhorn would be counted upon to help stretch the field for Baltimore.
Tomlinson’s words reflect well on the importance of explosive plays in today’s NFL. The most reliable way of producing explosive plays is through the deep ball. No quarterback or team does it better than Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Last season, Jackson had a 111.9 passer rating and a 40-percent completion percentage on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield, according to PFF. He threw just two interceptions on 55 deep pass attempts, so Jackson proved that he’s more than capable enough to expose defenses downfield if they sell out on the run.
Harbaugh believes the next step for Lamar and the Ravens offense is to make defenses pay for stacking the box.
This speaks to why Duvernay is such a good fit for the Ravens offense. He was arguably one of the best in college football at tracking down deep passes. Time and time again, he hauled in over-the-shoulder throws from Sam Ehlinger with ease — he’ll complement Hollywood Brown as a deep threat in their offense.
Duvernay’s transition to the slot receiver position was quite remarkable. It turned out that he should have primarily been used as a slot receiver his entire college career. It’s worth noting that Baltimore had 19 touchdown receptions from players lined up in the slot in 2019. No other NFL team had more than 15, per PFF.
Joining one of the league’s most prolific offenses and well-ran organizations, Duvernay has the tools to help Jackson build on his MVP season, which could potentially push the Ravens over the top in the AFC this season.