Addition of Johnson was much needed

He's no Terrell Owens, that's for sure. He may not even be Derrick Alexander or Michael Jackson, but Kevin Johnson is clearly the most viable wideout that the Baltimore Ravens have acquired since Brian Billick took over as the Head Coach of this team in 1999.

Suffice to say, that isn't much of a distinction for Mr. Johnson. He had to elbow other Raven greats like Qadry Ismail, Justin Armour and Brandon Stokley to earn his place at the head of the line. Still, the situation at receiver had become so dire for the Ravens that had they not obtained Johnson from Jacksonville by giving up a fourth-round pick, the team would have had to seriously contemplate resurrecting the careers of Antonio Freeman, Curtis Conway and any other "has been" wideout that is currently available on the free-agent market. 

The Ravens have already tried one revival act when they signed former Arizona Pro Bowl alternate Frank Sanders last spring, but Sanders did nothing more than convert the most important fourth-down in Ravens' history against Seattle, and leave the Ravens with an accelerated cap hit worth $1.275M that will be eaten this year. 

There isn't any need to revive Johnson from the dead. In a down season, he snagged 58 catches. That is 26 less catches than the top three wide receivers on the Ravens (Sanders, Travis Taylor and former Raven Marcus Robinson) were able to produce last season. 

It should not take Johnson longer than four games to surpass the whopping 14 catches that Sanders produced all of last year.

Sure, Johnson has his limitations, which is why he's never been better than a No.2 or No.1A caliber wide receiver in the NFL. He doesn't have a strong frame, he's got just average speed, and his blocking skills leave much to be desired.

However, Johnson is the consummate possession receiver. He can go over the middle, does a nice job of finding the dead spots in zone coverage, he's got good body control and he can catch the football with his hands, unlike almost every receiver on the roster last year. In fact, Johnson possibly possesses the best pair of hands in the league.

For that fact alone, Johnson is an immediate asset to the Ravens. There has been a lot of hype about the Ravens needing a deep threat, a big-play wideout who can earn a double team. While it would be nice to have that type of go-to wideout on the roster, the Ravens would do just as well to have a competent NFL receiver like Johnson who has been consistent throughout his career.

This acquisition also helps the rest of the Ravens' receiving core. With Johnson lining up at the flanker position in the Ravens' offense, that allows Travis Taylor to line up at split end, the position that Taylor played during his first two seasons in the league. You could argue that Taylor's best success came when he played opposite of Qadry Ismail during the 2000 and 2001 seasons. 

If Johnson's presence can allow Taylor to take advantage of his matchups against the No.2 cornerback instead of facing the No.1, that may also lead to Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap getting better matchups to work with down the middle of the field. At the very least, if Heap continues to be double teamed next year, Johnson and Taylor should be capable of taking advantage of man-to-man coverage. 

Obviously, any designs of this passing attack being even better than average after the addition of Johnson is probably a stretch given all of the question marks surrounding the other wideouts on the team. Even if Taylor has someone to take the pressure off of him, he must catch the ball with enhanced consistency. 

Randy Hymes, who came on at the end of the 2002 season, must prove that he's able to play at a high level for an entire season. Rookies Devard Darling and Clarence Moore will also be counted on to contribute some as the backups receivers.

However, this is the Ravens we are talking about. Jamal Lewis and the running game will still be the focal point of the offense, and the primary base package will still be a two-tight end or two-tailback set. You probably won't see much of an increase in the percentage of three-wide sets used next season. 

That said, you will see the U-formation (a one wide, two tight-end, two-back formation) used a lot less than it was used last year, because the coaches can actually deploy two wideouts onto the field that aren't complete stiffs.


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