OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The biggest challenge of Eric DeCosta's first draft as general manager is to solve the Baltimore Ravens' longest-running problem this time of the year.
The Ravens have been the NFL's worst team in drafting wide receivers since relocating from Cleveland in 1996 -- the one smudge on an otherwise stellar draft resume for former GM Ozzie Newsome. No wide receiver drafted by the Ravens has made the Pro Bowl (Jermaine Lewis went to it as a returner), and only one has produced a 1,000-yard season (Torrey Smith in 2013).
DeCosta has looked at this issue at length and believes he has come up with an answer to finding playmaking targets for new franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson.
"I think one of the biggest things that we have to do is just get some at-bats and swing," DeCosta said. "It’s hard to be a .400 hitter if you’re only going to bat twice. So, we have to take some chances."
When it comes to the early rounds, the Ravens have been more apt to take a cornerback, an offensive lineman or linebacker. Wide receiver? That has been a staggering afterthought.
This is the exact opposite approach of Baltimore's biggest rival. The Pittsburgh Steelers have built a reputation for being the best at drafting wide receivers because they're not hesitant to use their early picks on that position.
Over the past decade, the Steelers have drafted a league-high eight wide receivers in the first three rounds, where their hits have overshadowed the misses. The big catches by Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and JuJu Smith-Schuster make many forget about busts such as Limas Sweed, Dri Archer and Sammie Coates.
So for the Ravens to build a supporting cast around Jackson, it's batter up.
"We have to find some guys that we like. We have to appreciate the really good football players, guys that make plays," DeCosta said. "Receivers come in all different shapes and sizes. Some guys are big and physical; other guys are fast and run great routes. But it really comes down to finding guys that fit who we are, that we like, who can help us win football games."
If the Ravens follow through with this, they likely will use one of their top three picks (one in first round and two in the third) on a wide receiver. Or perhaps DeCosta will trade out of the first round to take a wide receiver in the second round and another in the third.
Oklahoma's Marquise Brown and Ole Miss' DK Metcalf, the top two consensus wide receivers in this year's class, made late pre-draft visits to the Ravens. Both could be in play for Baltimore at the No. 22 overall pick, or one could still be there if the Ravens move back to the early part of the second round.
Wide receiver prospects in the third round include Arizona State's N'Keal Harry, Iowa State's Hakeem Butler and N.C. State's Kelvin Harmon.
"We'd love to bring in some young guys and have them develop a relationship with Lamar Jackson moving forward," DeCosta said.
For that to happen, Baltimore has to use multiple picks on wide receivers because the odds are stacked against landing standout ones. Over the past 10 drafts, 19 of the 125 wide receivers taken in the first three rounds have reached a Pro Bowl. That's just a 15 percent success rate.
Charley Casserly, an NFL Network analyst and former NFL GM, once did a study on why so many wide receivers struggle to make the transition from college to the NFL.
"The biggest reason why receivers fail of the higher-round picks was the inability to separate," Casserly said. "Now, Perriman was hands. I saw it in college and the Ravens obviously felt differently about it and took him. But a lot of times in college, you don’t have to separate from anybody. You face a lot of zone coverages and soft coverages and the corners who cover man aren’t good. In college, you don’t face a lot of tight coverage. Especially with bigger receivers, but they couldn’t separate."
Wide receiver is among the Ravens' top three needs heading into next week's draft (pass-rusher and interior offensive line are the others). It's a position that's once again in transition for Baltimore, which parted ways with Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency and recently signed Seth Roberts.
Of the six wide receivers on Baltimore's roster, only half (Roberts, Willie Snead and Chris Moore) have caught an NFL pass. The Ravens need someone to make an immediate impact, but more than any other franchise, they understand the difficulty in finding one.
"Historically, [the tough transition for wide receivers] has been true," coach John Harbaugh said. "Then there’s always a rookie or two every year that proves it wrong. Hopefully, we’ll get that rookie. But it’s tough."