July 6, 2022

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Ravens Trying to Replace Hollywood Brown

6 min read
Ravens Trying to Replace Hollywood Brown

NFL Offseason – For this May round of Four Downs, we will be looking at each team’s biggest remaining need as well as notable undrafted free agents who will be going to camp with each franchise. Here’s a look at AFC North needs.

Baltimore Ravens

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Wide Receiver

Lost in all the hosannas for the Ravens’ draft brilliance was the fact that the team is even less set at wide receiver than it was before the draft. Draft day departee Marquise “Hollywood” Brown was more nickname than productive receiver in Baltimore (in three seasons Brown finished 41st, 58th, and 88th among receivers in DYAR), but at least he made opponents respect his deep speed. The starters at the moment consist of Rashod Bateman, who had a promising rookie campaign despite a training camp injury (46th in DYAR), kick returner Devin Duvernay, and James Proche, who barely scraped past 200 receiving yards in 2021. For Lamar Jackson to return to anywhere near his MVP form he will need assistance from an unforeseen source.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

Baltimore has kept a UDFA on the final 53-man roster in 17 of the last 18 seasons, and they signed a massive haul of 17 undrafted guys in order to prolong that success. Six, count ’em, six attack the shallow wideout pool, including Slade Bolden of Alabama, who worked underneath while his better-known teammates went deep; Raleigh Webb of the Citadel, whose strength and speed combination invited comparisons to Christian McCaffrey; and Makai Polk, who grabbed 105 passes in Mike Leach’s Air Raid at Mississippi State. Offensive tackle Brodarious Hamm survived cancer to become a two-year starter in the SEC at Auburn and might have the best chance of the huge group to stick come September.

Cincinnati Bengals

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Tight End

Cincy figured to grab a developmental tight end in the draft, but it didn’t fall that way. That leaves newly signed Hayden Hurst as the lone move tight end on the roster. Hurst is a former first-round pick who was lost in the need to funnel balls to Kyle Pitts in Atlanta, as he had been with Mark Andrews in Baltimore.

Hurst can get up the seam; in 2019 and 2020, we charted Hurst with 11% and 15% of his targets as deep before Pitts took all those targets last season (Hurst charted exactly 0% deep throws a year ago). Being the lone catching threat at the position, with the Bengals’ superb wideouts leaving Hurst with matchup advantages, should be a good setup for the former Gamecocks star. But if Hurst doesn’t pan out or gets hurt, the Bengals are left with a blocker (Drew Sample) and a special teams ace (Mitchell Wilcox) as their tight ends, which would surely hinder even Cincinnati’s explosive passing attack.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

Long snapper Clark Harris, 38 years young, has been a rock on special teams since 2009, but the hirsute folk hero is officially on notice with the signing of Cal Adomitis, who won the award for best collegiate long snapper (yes, there is such a thing, and it’s called the Patrick Mannelly Award) in 2022 at Pitt. Cincy also brought in an intriguing interior offensive line prospect in Ben Brown of Ole Miss, who would have been a mid-round pick but for a biceps tear suffered in October, and a defensive lineman with a fantastic name, Tariqious Tisdale. And the club went down to Myrtle Beach for a pair of Coastal Carolina prospects, wideout Jaivon Heiligh and running back Shermari Jones, who scored the winning touchdown in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (which, like the Mannelly Award, you are just learning about here).

Cleveland Browns

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Defensive Line

The front four remains a unit with plenty of question marks beyond All-World pass rusher Myles Garrett. With Jadeveon Clowney still in limbo, Chase Winovich, who flunked out of New England, is slated to get a shot at redemption in Browns Town opposite Garrett. Backing him up is third-round draft choice Alex Wright from Alabama-Birmingham, a young and long prospect who needs plenty of seasoning before making any impact. Inside there are a raft of choices without any obvious solutions. Jordan Elliott and Jags washout Taven Bryan are the starters for now, but good camp performances from second-year man Tommy Togiai or this year’s fourth-round pick Perrion Winfrey of Oklahoma could change that. The Browns have been hunting for answers on their defensive front for a couple of years but have yet to come up with much prey.

(Ed. Note: Clowney was officially re-signed by the Browns this morning, which makes defensive tackle a bigger need than defensive end for now.)

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

The Browns went deep into the well for several of their undrafted signees. West Florida won the D3 National Championship in 2021, and safety D’Anthony Bell was a big part of that team. Big-bodied (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) corner Julius Faulk was signed out of tiny Delta State University, which may have been because the school is located in Cleveland—Cleveland, Mississippi, that is. Tyreke Smith was drafted by Seattle out of Ohio State; his older brother Malik is a 6-foot-6 former basketball player who played tight end at Fisk University. And the Browns signed a quarterback, though Felix Harper of Alcorn State is just 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, so he’s closer to 15 cents than he is a full quarter.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Defensive Line

One can argue that the Steelers are living in a fantasy world if they believe the offensive tackle combo of Chuks Okorafor and Dan Moore (36 blown blocks as a rookie) is good enough to head into battle with, but at least both players are young with room to improve. The defensive front is shallow and getting long in the tooth, even if 33-year-old Cam Heyward remains an unblockable menace (10 sacks, 53 pressures in 2021).

At the other two spots, Pittsburgh is relying on a pair of players, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, who combined for 57 snaps in 2021. Tuitt missed all of last season due to a combination of knee injury and mourning the tragic death of his brother. He has yet to commit to anything for the coming season—the team remains hopeful but vague whenever asked about Tuitt’s status. Nose tackle Alualu was lost in Week 2 to a broken ankle and is entering his age-35 season. Behind them are journeyman Chris Wormley and third-round pick DeMarvin Leal of Texas A&M, a middling athlete who disappointed on tape, though playing end in a 3-4 front might be suited to his skill set. Obviously, the Steelers can still generate pass rush, but they were 27th against the run by DVOA last year. Unless Tuitt and Alualu return to form, that may not improve much.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

Running back depth behind Najee Harris was the focus of Pittsburgh’s UDFA class. Mateo Durant had an extremely productive career at Duke, including 11 touchdowns as a senior in Durham. He is a speedy (Blue) devil, and comparable to Pittsburgh legend Willie Parker, another UDFA, though Parker went to North Carolina and is required to despise Durant. The Steelers also grabbed a more punishing back in Jaylen Warren from Oklahoma State. They also brought in cornerback Chris Steele, who was a top recruit for USC but never really developed, and may have been signed purely for his last name.

Portions of this article previously appeared on ESPN+.