As Receivers Descend On Nfl Combine, Browns’ – And Ravens’ – Interest Perk Up

Ravens GM Eric DeCosta incurred the Twitter wrath of Ravens WR Rashod Bateman when he said at the NFL Combine that his drafting of receivers has not been good. Meanwhile, the Browns think they're doing OK at the position.

Ravens GM Eric DeCosta incurred the Twitter wrath of Ravens WR Rashod Bateman when he said at the NFL Combine that his drafting of receivers has not been good. Meanwhile, the Browns think they're doing OK at the position.

As receivers descend on NFL Combine, Browns’ – and Ravens’ – interest perk up

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.


Team A is one of the best NFL organizations at drafting college players. It has selected dozens of players who were voted to the Pro Bowl. But it can’t rub out its blind spot at the wide receiver position. The team knows it, owns it, and vows to do better.

Team B is not one of the best organizations at drafting college players. It has a blind spot at wide receiver also, yet doesn’t own it and believes it is doing its best and its fortunes will change.

Team A is the Baltimore Ravens.

Team B is the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns and Ravens share a sordid history rooted in the year of 1996 – when former Browns owner Art Modell moved his team to Baltimore and renamed them the Ravens.

Since the Browns were reborn in expansion in 1999, there is only one thing they have in common with their AFC North division rival. That is the failure to identify quality receivers in the draft.

Since 1996, the Ravens have drafted future Pro Bowl selections at the following positions – linebacker, offensive tackle, defensive end, tight end, cornerback, safety, defensive tackle, running back, guard, fullback, quarterback, return specialist and special teamer. But not wide receiver.

Since 1999, the Browns have drafted future Pro Bowl selections at the following positions – offensive tackle, long snapper, center, tight end, cornerback, safety, linebacker, guard, cornerback, running back, defensive end, and, yes, receiver. The Browns sent 2005 No. 3 overall draft pick Braylon Edwards to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2012 supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon in 2014.

While the Browns were the proverbial blind squirrel to find the acorn with Edwards and Gordon, their record in drafting receivers over the last decade has been fairly atrocious. Same with the Ravens.

"I would say a lot of people would say the same thing,” Ravens GM Eric DeCosta said in response to my question at the NFL Combine this week. "It's a challenging position to evaluate in different ways. If I had an answer, that means I would probably have some better receivers, I guess.

“We keep trying. I think there's a lot of things that go along with that position. Sometimes, it is tied to the quarterback and I think it's tied to things like durability. It's tied to a lot of things. We're going to keep swinging. There have been some guys that have been successful players for us that were draft picks.

“We've never really hit on that All-Pro type of guy, which is disappointing, I would say. But it's not for a lack of effort. We believe in what we do. We believe in our scouting, we believe in the system that we have, the scouting system that we have. It's one of those anomalies that I really can't explain other than to say we're not gonna stop trying. We've drafted probably at least five or six receivers in the last four years, maybe. We're going to just keep swinging and, and hopefully at one of these points we'll hit the ball out of the park. But that's our goal. We understand the importance of the position. We'll keep trying to do it."

DeCosta was the first person Ozzie Newsome hired when Modell moved his team to Baltimore in 1996 and made Newsome GM. DeCosta succeeded the semi-retired Newsome as GM in 2019.

Since DeCosta took over the Ravens draft, he has selected receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin in 2019, Devin Duvernay and James Proche in 2020, and Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace in 2021.

When Bateman read DeCosta’s quote, he took to Twitter to rip his GM.

Bateman posted on Twitter: “How bout you play to your player’s strength and & stop pointing the finger at us and #8 [quarterback Lamar Jackson] …blame the one you let do this…. we take heat 24/7. And keep us healthy … care about US & see what happen..ain’t no promises tho … tired of y’all lyin and capn on players for no reason.”

Bateman deleted the tweet about 40 minutes later and then posted: “My apologies” with an emoji of two people hugging.

As DeCosta noted, the Ravens will take their swings at receiver once again in the 2023 draft. Their passing game deficiencies, despite having an MVP quarterback in Lamar Jackson, are keeping the team from seriously challenging for the Super Bowl.

The Browns have an urgency at the receiver position, too. They have to find a speed receiver to give Deshaun Watson something he didn’t have in his six-game trial in 2022.

Since the Andrew Berry-Kevin Stefanski partnership was formed in 2020, the Browns have drafted the following receivers: Donovan Peoples-Jones (2020), Anthony Schwartz (2021), and David Bell and Michael Woods (2022).

When I suggested the Browns have a blind spot at the receiver position, Stefanski would not agree.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think it is a pretty small sample size. Let me say this, no one has cornered the market on player evaluations. We are doing our best. It is challenging. There are certain times you are going to be right, and sometimes you are going to be wrong. You are not going to bat 1.000, but I really do trust Andrew and I trust the process that we have in place.”

I believe the Browns will use their first draft pick, No. 42 overall in the second round, on a receiver with speed. Which makes this an important scouting week
for Berry, Stefanski and others of their respective staffs.

It was here at the NFL Combine one year ago that Stefanski became smitten with possession receiver Bell of Purdue and persuaded Berry to select him with the 99th overall pick in the third round.

Bell’s rookie season was meh – 24 receptions, 214 yards, zero touchdowns -- and he's never going to be cast as a speed receiver. Bell almost seems out of place in the offense Stefanski is planning for Watson.

“David Bell is super dependable and super reliable,” Stefanski said.

Receivers enter the media interview room at the Combine on Friday. Their 40 clockings and workouts in receiver drills are on Sunday.

This week, Berry flatly declined to offer a broad overview of the 2023 draft class.

"I could but, honestly, I'm probably not going to," Berry said with a laugh, adding, "It's good."

DeCosta wasn’t as secretive.

"I think it's a good class,” he said. “There's probably five or six guys that you look at as potential first-round type of guys and then [it’s] pretty strong through the second, third and fourth round as well.

“What we've seen last year is the dynamic that these guys might typically go higher than you have them rated, because of the importance of the position. We've seen that with the pay scale at the position as well. I think the league recognizes the importance of that position. That being the case, I think it's strong, it's a good class.”

The Browns and Ravens have to score a quality receiver in this draft to satisfy their quarterbacks and round out their offenses. The team that finally hits the bulls-eye on the position in this draft will make a large step toward the AFC playoffs in 2023.