Joe Flacco believes Michael Crabtree is 'the guy' for Ravens

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Joe Flacco has consistently found Michael Crabtree during the first two weeks of Baltimore Ravens offseason practices, whether it's over the middle, along the sideline or in the corner of the end zone.

The impressive part isn't the number of times Flacco has hit the Ravens' biggest free-agent addition. It's the effortlessness it takes for Flacco and Crabtree to connect, as if they were playing pitch and catch in the backyard.

Their chemistry appears to go beyond the six practices on the field.

"I think Crabtree is the guy, because he’s got a little different way that he runs the routes," Flacco said. "He’s really crafty with it, and he knows when to break away from guys and how to get open."

Flacco's recent struggles have coincided with the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. Baltimore has seen only one player produce more than 1,000 yards receiving in the past three seasons.

Last season, Mike Wallace led Ravens pass-catchers with 748 yards. There were 39 NFL players who totaled more in 2017.

The key to getting Flacco and the NFL's No. 29 passing attack back on track is Crabtree, who signed a three-year, $21 million deal with Baltimore in March. Crabtree is one of 10 wide receivers to rank in the top 20 in both receiving yards (2,543) and touchdown catches (25) over the past three seasons.

When Flacco and Crabtree have been asked about the other, the word each has used is "smooth."

"That deep ball, I haven’t seen anything like that in the air," Crabtree said. "That spin is just nice. Being able to catch the ball from Flacco, it’s just amazing. That’s a good quarterback, man."

The comparisons between Crabtree and former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin are fitting, from their physical stature to their style of play.

Crabtree is 6-feet-1, 215 pounds. Boldin is 6-1, 218. When Boldin was traded to Baltimore, he was 29. When Crabtree signed with the Ravens, he was 30.

Crabtree and Boldin are not burners in terms of speed. Both excel at making the contested catch.

"Just the physicality that he brings, and I think his route-running too, with how much strength he runs with -- and he seems to bring a lot of those things," Flacco said of Crabtree. "You can tell just by throwing with him a couple times [that] he’s smooth."

Boldin led the Ravens in receiving yards in all three of his seasons in Baltimore. After Boldin was traded to the 49ers in 2013, Flacco has seen a revolving door at the No. 1 receiver spot.

Over the past six seasons, five different players have led Baltimore in receiving yards: Boldin (2012), Torrey Smith (2013), Steve Smith Sr. (2014), Kamar Aiken (2015) and Wallace (2016-17). Six other teams (the Bills, Browns, Chiefs, Saints, Jets and Raiders) have had as many different players lead in receiving yards since 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Boldin, Smith and Wallace all topped Baltimore in receiving yards in their first seasons with the Ravens. That underscores how it has been a yearly tradition for Flacco to get accustomed to a new top target.

As far as building a rapport with Flacco, Crabtree is taking more of a wait-and-see stance.

"You only see it in the game. You’d say the first game," Crabtree said. "Practice is what you practice, and then the game is showtime. Once you see it in the game multiple times then you get comfortable."

Crabtree is the headliner to what is a new Ravens wide-receiver group. Baltimore signed deep threat John Brown, added slot receiver Willie Snead and drafted Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley.

The Ravens already view Crabtree as the leader at that position.

"He’s a really hard worker," coach John Harbaugh said. "He has a great feel for the game, a lot of the tricks of the trade he understands, and he’s willing to share with those guys. He’s been great for our locker room, for our meeting room."

Of the 13 wide receivers on the roster, Crabtree is among just three who are older than 25. That's why Crabtree sees himself as the leader by default.

"I don’t have a choice," Crabtree said. "I’m going on 10 [years] in the game, and all these guys are three-, four-, first-year guys. That’s just my role. At the same time, I’m out there competing like I’m 21, so I’m going to have fun with it."