OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens spoke repeatedly throughout the offseason about rebuilding their offense from the ground up without providing much of a description of what this will look like.
A picture of what the Ravens are assembling around Lamar Jackson started to come into focus during last week’s draft. Three of Baltimore’s first four picks were devoted to a supporting cast that complements one of the most unique quarterback talents in the league.
Wide receiver Marquise Brown, the Ravens’ first-round pick, is among the fastest players that ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has ever evaluated. Wide receiver Miles Boykin, a third-round selection, was among the 20 fastest players at the NFL combine. And running back Justice Hill, a fourth-rounder, was the fastest running back in Indianapolis in February.
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“We played a lot of teams, really good offenses this year [and] I had a chance to sit up in the press box and watch some of these offenses. One of the main common denominators is speed," Eric DeCosta said after his first draft as the Ravens general manager. "We got a chance to see what Lamar can do this past year, and I think our vision, collective vision, for the offense is to add more guys like that to make it really challenging on the defense."
The Ravens can see Brown sprinting behind the defense and catching a 70-yard pass from Jackson. They can see Boykin making a one-handed catch and outrunning the secondary for a score. They can see Hill taking a short pass and delivering a big-play touchdown.
How much did the Ravens need this type of speed? Over the past five seasons, Baltimore ranked last in plays of 25 yards or more (152). The Ravens’ 25 touchdowns of 25 yards or more over that same span were the second-fewest in the league.
The Ravens got much faster through the draft with the addition of players like Marquise Brown. Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire
This influx of young talent hasn’t changed Jackson’s role. He remains the top playmaker on the team. What this draft has done is take some of the pressure off Jackson to produce most of the big plays on offense and help in Jackson’s development as a passer.
"The idea of adding speed with Lamar is just an exciting thing to think about teams having to defend," said Joe Hortiz, the Ravens’ director of college scouting. "It’s a chance to really put fear into our opposing defenses."
Striking fear in defenses is what succeeds these days in this age of offense. The four winningest teams over the past five seasons — the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks — are among the top five teams in producing plays of 25 yards or more.
If the Ravens can follow this path, it could result in turning this team into a perennial playoff one again. It could also result in some interesting competition on the team.
Asked if he’ll race Brown, Hill said with a laugh, "I don’t know. If they want to see it, they can get it."
The Ravens took an unprecedented route to strengthen the skill positions around Jackson. This marked the first time in the franchise’s 24-year history that the Ravens selected two wide receivers in the first three rounds of the same draft.
According to Mel Kiper Jr.’s rankings, Baltimore came away with two of the top 10 receivers in this draft (including the top one in Brown) as well as the fifth-best running back.
"We added a lot of speed. We had some playmakers [and] we had some big guys," DeCosta said. "I think we helped our football team quite a bit."