Dif­fer­ing suc­cess with WR draft picks

Groom­ing them hasn’t been team’s strong suit, while Steel­ers have de­vel­oped stars

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Ed­ward Lee

As much as the Ravens and Pitts­burgh Steel­ers pride them­selves on stingy de­fenses, phys­i­cal play and AFC North ti­tles, they dif­fer on how to de­velop wide re­ceivers.

Bre­shad Per­ri­man and Chris Moore are the only re­ceivers on the Ravens ros­ter drafted by the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Per­ri­man, a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft whose rookie sea­son was wiped out by a par­tially torn PCL in his right knee, has caught 14 passes for 183 yards. Moore, a fourth-round pick in April, has six re­cep­tions for 41 yards.

Mean­while, the Steel­ers have three home­grown wide­outs. An­to­nio Brown, a six­thround pick in 2010, ranks sixth and ninth in the league in catches (48) and yards (592), re­spec­tively, and is tied for fourth in touch­down catches (five). Markus Wheaton, a thir­dround choice in 2013, has made four re­cep­tions for 51 yards and one touch­down, and Sam­mie Coates, an­other third-round se­lec­tion in 2015, has caught 20 balls for 425 yards and two scores.

Tak­ing a wide re­ceiver can be a hit-ormiss propo­si­tion, ac­cord­ing to Ravens of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg, who worked with Jerry Rice and Ter­rell Owens with the San Fran­cisco 49ers, and DeSean Jack­son and Jeremy Ma­clin with Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 21⁄

the Philadel­phia Ea­gles.

“I have said this once and I am go­ing to say it again: They have to stay healthy to get bet­ter ev­ery day,” Morn­hin­weg said of the most im­por­tant fac­tor in a wide re­ceiver’s growth. “We talked about that be­fore — get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day, and good things tend to hap­pen. That has to hap­pen for a player to do very well early in his ca­reer. Oth­ers, it takes some time, whether it was due to in­jury, whether it was due to a to­tally dif­fer­ent type of of­fense [that they] asked him to do some dif­fer­ent things. I have coached some great play­ers that it hap­pened very quickly for. I have coached some other play­ers where it took some time.”

Draft­ing wide re­ceivers has not been the Ravens’ strong suit. Of the 25 re­ceivers taken by the fran­chise, Mary­land alum­nus and 2011 sec­ond-round pick Tor­rey Smith proved to be the most pro­duc­tive of that group, with the most re­ceiv­ing yards.

The club has used first-round selections three times, and Travis Tay­lor (10th over­all in 2000) and Mark Clay­ton (22nd in 2005) did not reach their full po­ten­tial. The jury is out on Per­ri­man (26th).

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s most pro­duc­tive re­ceiver was Derrick Ma­son, who spent his first eight years with the Ten­nessee Oil­ers/ Ti­tans. This sea­son, the team’s leader in re­ceiv­ing yards (490) and touch­downs (three) is Mike Wal­lace, who played his first four sea­sons in Pitts­burgh. And Steve Smith Sr., who spent his first 13 years with the Carolina Pan­thers, ranks third in re­cep­tions (27) and yards (310).

Per­ri­man, who is ba­si­cally in the midst of his rookie sea­son, said he un­der­stands the ex­pec­ta­tions at­tached to his high place­ment in last year’s draft.

“I know what I’m sup­posed to do,” he said. “I’m a first-round draft pick, but I don’t pay too much at­ten­tion to that. Re­ally, I just fo­cus on how I’ve got a big role, and that’s why I’m here. So I try not to fo­cus on ex­pec­ta­tions and I just go out there and play, and I know ev­ery­thing will be fine.”

Pitts­burgh has had its share of misses but has also suc­cess­fully groomed wide re­ceivers. Hines Ward, the fran­chise’s leader in catches, yards and touch­down re­cep­tions, was a third-round choice in 1998. Plaxico Bur­ress and San­to­nio Holmes were firstround picks in 2000 and 2006, re­spec­tively. And Wal­lace and Em­manuel San­ders were taken in the third round in 2009 and 2010, re­spec­tively.

Steel­ers coach Mike Tom­lin dis­missed the no­tion of the or­ga­ni­za­tion us­ing a se­cret for­mula to find pro­duc­tive wide­outs through the draft.

“We just hit on some of those guys. I’m not go­ing to make more out of it than what it is,” he said. “We do our due dili­gence just like ev­ery­body else does their due dili­gence. I am not go­ing to pre­tend like our pro­cesses are bet­ter. We are just try­ing to get the very

Hits and misses

Draft­ing in the NFL is never an ex­act science. Still, when it comes to se­lect­ing wide re­ceivers, the Ravens and the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers are on op­po­site ends of the spec­trum. Here are sev­eral no­table choices in the drafts for both teams. Ravens Year 1996 1998 1999 2000 2004 2005 2007 2011 2015 Round (No.) Fifth (153) Sec­ond (42) Fourth (105) First (10) Third (82) First (22) Third (74) Sec­ond (58) First (26) Name Jer­maine Lewis Pa­trick John­son Bran­don Stok­ley Travis Tay­lor De­vard Dar­ling Mark Clay­ton Ya­mon Fig­urs Tor­rey Smith Bre­shad Per­ri­man best play­ers as con­sis­tently as we can.”

Wal­lace linked Pitts­burgh’s re­sults to a sim­pler ex­pla­na­tion. “Hon­estly, I think it’s luck,” he said.

The key, ac­cord­ing to Wal­lace, is the Steel­ers search for quick re­ceivers with big-play ca­pa­bil­ity who can com­ple­ment quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger’s pow­er­ful arm.

“We just had guys with the same style and sim­i­lar body types,” Wal­lace said. “All of us were the same — fast, quick guys that can get open and catch the ball and make some­thing out of noth­ing. All of us could make big plays be­cause they had a big-play quar­ter­back.”

Fair or not, the emer­gence of young wide re­ceivers such as the New York Gi­ants’ Odell Beck­ham Jr. and the Oak­land Raiders’ Amari Cooper has dis­torted the de­vel­op­men­tal process for oth­ers. Whereas the rule of thumb was that a wide­out needed three years in the NFL to grow, that time­line is now much shorter.

“That doesn’t ex­ist any­more in this league,” Moore said of the three-year buf­fer. “When you come here, you’ve got to be ready to play.”

Per­ri­man is aware of the out­side ex­pec­ta­tions. But he em­braces the model set by Beck­ham and Cooper and is ea­ger to make a pos­i­tive im­pact as quickly as he can.

“I want to do it now, too,” Per­ri­man said. “That’s what I’m work­ing to­ward do­ing, and I know it’s com­ing. It’s com­ing along pretty good, and I know it’s just a mat­ter of time un­til it re­ally just clicks for me.” Com­ment Made Pro Bowl as re­turner in 1998, 2001 Av­er­aged 1.2 catches, 18.4 yards in 70 games Caught touch­down pass in Su­per Bowl XXXV win Ranks sev­enth in team his­tory with 2,758 yards Av­er­aged 0.8 catches, 12.6 yards in 46 games Ranks fourth in team his­tory with 3,116 yards Re­turned for Ravens, five other teams Ranked third in team his­tory with 3,591 yards Has 14 catches for 183 yards in sec­ond year Chris Moore, above, and Bre­shad Per­ri­man are the only re­ceivers on the Ravens ros­ter drafted by the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Moore, a rookie, has six re­cep­tions for 41 yards.

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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