In spite of the fact that the position wasn’t exactly favored early on in the draft—only one wide receiver was taken in the first 31 picks—the 2019 season was a great one for rookie wide receivers, including but certainly not limited to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ own Diontae Johnson.
A third-round pick, 66th overall, he finished first among rookie receivers with 59 receptions, totaling 680 yards and five touchdowns. He wasn’t the only rookie wide receiver in the division to make an impact, though. The other significant contributor was Marquise Brown, the Baltimore Ravens’ first-round pick.
The cousin of former Steeler Antonio Brown, ‘Hollywood’ had a busy offseason consistently almost entirely of rehab work after suffering a foot injury that ended his final collegiate season before he declared for the draft. He was still the first player at his position to come off the board.
He began his career with a bang, to say the least. He caught four passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener, his first two receptions being long touchdowns, including an 83-yarder. On the season, though, he ultimately caught 46 passes for 584 yards, finishing with seven touchdown receptions. He only averaged 34 yards per game after the opener.
Said his quarterback, second-year Lamar Jackson, “even though he was hurt with his foot, he still felt like he should be [Julio Jones] already. I told him, ‘bro, you’re good. Your foot’s not already 100 and you’re making plays’. This year, he’s going to be dangerous”.
Even though he didn’t get a chance to run the 40-yard dash at the Combine due to his injury, Brown’s speed is known to be elite, and he put that on display time and again during his rookie season, even when he was not getting the ball. His seven touchdowns was already a team rookie record.
What’s remarkable is that it wasn’t even clear how much he would contribute as a rookie, but he ended up more or less being the team’s top receiving threat at the wide receiver position, along with Willie Snead, their slot receiver. Much of the passing game was filtered through the tight ends, particularly Pro Bowler Mark Andrews.
Brown wasn’t at 100 percent either physically or mentally in terms of the way the game is played. There is plenty of reason for the Ravens to be excited about seeing what he can do in his second year, much more removed from that foot injury that slowed down one of the fastest players in the NFL.