As consistently turning over multiple spots on the roster to emerging young players season to season has become a key component to the Ravens’ ability to make the playofs year in and year out, “next man up” has become an oft repeated mantra from the organization and its fans to describe the process of young players moving up the depth chart. With receiver Torrey Smith being one of the players who had to be let go this past offseason, head coach John Harbaugh is targeting Marlon Brown in particular as one of those players the Ravens need to step forward and take on a bigger role with the team:
The Ravens head coach is pushing the third-year receiver going into this season. Brown has shown flashes during his first two years, but the Ravens are counting on him to take on even more responsibility this season.
“I have high hopes for him,” Harbaugh said. “I really want to see him breakout. … It’s time for him to step up and become what he’s capable of doing. He’s very determined to do that.”
Brown excited many fans as an undrafted free agent in 2013, catching 49 passes and 7 touchdowns while showing a good feel for getting open in the middle of the field and providing a big possession receiver for Joe Flacco. However, those numbers tailed off to just 24 catches and no touchdowns on 31 targets in 2014, and Brown often felt like something of a forgotten man in the receiving corps with the addition of Steve Smith Sr. and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s tight end heavy formations.
The Ravens might have used their first round pick to draft Torrey Smith’s long term replacement in Breshad Perriman, but Harbaugh is right that they will need Brown to be more productive in 2015, giving Flacco a big and reliable target to complement Smith Sr., take pressure off of oft-injured tight end Dennis Pitta, and provide some insurance against the unpredictable development of rookies like Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams.
That Brown’s production decline coincided with a decrease in the focus on many receiver sets under Kubiak, as well as his demotion to fourth on the team’s depth chart after the signing of Steve Smith Sr., is quite a bit of reason to think Brown’s development has gone on apace in his second season in the league. His rate of catching balls thrown to him was over 75%, and his yards per catch mirrored his production from his rookie season. That’s the mark of a player who is making the most of his time on the field, and who can easily be seen as someone who will make a bigger impact as he gets a real chance to fight for more playing time, with only Smith’s role in the current group of receivers likely set at this point. He certainly has his limitations, and no one should be expecting him to become a Pro Bowler or one of the most productive receivers in the league, but with Marc Trestman, on of the best route designers and users of talent in football, now on board as the offensive coordinator, Harbaugh is right to expect a big step forward from number 14.