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Ravens counting on Breshad Perriman to be a difference-maker in 2017

Nearly three weeks into free agency, the Baltimore Ravens know there isn't going to be a Brandon Marshall or Pierre Garcon to come in and upgrade the wide receiver position.

Right now, the best way for Joe Flacco to improve from being the NFL's 24th-rated passer is to get the most out of wide receiver Breshad Perriman. The Ravens are banking on Perriman to play like a first-round draft pick.

"He has to be out there making a difference for us. Period. End of story," coach John Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings on Tuesday.

The Ravens need that "big, fast, physical stallion" they saw when they made Perriman the fifth wide receiver drafted in 2015. Baltimore lost 1,127 yards -- over one-quarter of Flacco's passing yards -- when Steve Smith Sr. retired and Kamar Aiken signed with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency, and the team hasn't added a wide receiver yet.

Now, the only wide receivers on the roster who caught double-digit receptions are Perriman and Mike Wallace.

Even though the Ravens can sign someone like Anquan Boldin or draft a wide receiver in the early rounds this year, the Ravens are hoping Perriman can start fulfilling his potential like some of the other receivers in his draft class.

Perriman's 499 yards receiving last year ranked ninth among wide receivers drafted in 2015. Oakland's Amari Cooper (first round), Minnesota's Stefon Diggs (fifth round) and Washington's Jamison Crowder (fourth round) all produced over 800 yards in 2016.

"With Breshad ... this guy is supremely talented," Harbaugh said. "He's fast, fast, fast. He's big, big, big. He can track a ball downfield and go up and make a play. We need him to be. He has to be. We took him as the 26th pick in the draft. I also know he's very motivated, and he's working very hard to be the best he can be."

Perriman was raw as a wide receiver in terms of route-running and even getting into his stance at the line of scrimmage. His growth was stunted by a couple of significant knee injuries. A partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee sidelined him for his entire rookie season, and a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last offseason forced him to miss most of 2016 training camp.

Barring another setback, this will mark the first time he'll catch passes from Flacco for an entire offseason, from spring workouts throughout an entire training camp.

"I think it's going to be a huge advantage for me," Perriman said at the end of the season. "There's no more rehabbing. It's just straight to work on the things that I know I need to get better at. So, I'm looking forward to it."

Perriman showed flashes last season, when he averaged 15.1 yards on 33 catches. There was the acrobatic, 27-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone against Cleveland in November as well as the career-best 53-yard score in which he outran the entire Dolphins defense in December. But he's never totaled more than four catches or 64 yards receiving in a game.

"I think he's matured tremendously in the last two years," Harbaugh said. "The bottom line, he has to be."