The Ravens wide receiving corps has certainly been under the microscope throughout the offseason and during training camp and it’s safe to say that the unit has received more scrutiny than all of the other team units combined.
I seem to recall similar attention directed towards the team’s offensive line last year and even the highlighted position of quarterback. Both positions answered their critics and I suspect that the wide receivers will do the same this year provided they can stay healthy.
Most close observers of the team expect the Ravens to carry five wide receivers. There’s just too much depth in the secondary and at linebacker to justify keeping a marginal at best wide receiver – one that can easily be replaced from the scrap heap of pass catchers that aren’t among the 1,696 players on active rosters league-wide.
Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams are locks for the 53 man squad barring a major injury. Kelley Washington has looked smooth and offers a special teams presence arguably unmatched by his corps mates. He looks like the fourth receiver among the group.
Battling for that fifth spot are Marcus Smith and Justin Harper.
Smith is a tough player and a converted running back. Those skills and his size and strength could translate to yards after catch (“YAC”). The problem is Smith can’t catch. He seldom makes a tough catch and often drops relatively easy ones.
Harper on the other hand has been the best homerun hitter in camp. He has size (6’3”), uses his body to box out defenders and he has deceptive speed. Just ask a few of the Ravens corners.
Harper needs to develop consistency but he’s been far more of a pass catching threat during camp than Smith. It really isn’t even close.
Now Ravens’ scouts are quick to point out that Smith is a tough player and brings it on special teams. But don’t the Ravens have plenty of guys that are good, tough, fast athletes who can strengthen Jerry Rosburg’s unit? The roster is loaded with those kinds of players.
What the Ravens have very little of are receivers who can make plays in the passing game and so far, Harper is that guy and he’s clearly that guy when measured against Smith.
Earlier during the 2009 summer camp, John Harbaugh made it clear that a player’s salary would not dictate his position on the team’s depth chart. Similarly we can only hope that a player’s draft position has no bearing on whether or not they make the final 53 man roster.
At this point the 2008 7th round pick Harper is far more deserving than Smith, a 2008 fourth rounder.
We’ll see if this continues when the games begin on Thursday.