It’s certainly no bit secret that the NFL has become a pass-happy league over the last few years. Rules have been established to help the passing game and add to fantasy football numbers.
As the Ravens head in to their 2014 season, there are plenty of hands that could be on the receiving end of quarterback Joe Flacco’s passes.
Here’s a look at the current receivers on the Ravens roster and those vying for the chance to wear the purple and black:
Torrey Smith: Smith enters 2014 in the final year of his rookie contract and the Drew Rosenhaus client could be in for a big pay day if he puts together another solid season. Although his receiving touchdowns were down last season (4), The former Maryland Terp caught a career-high 65 passes for 1,128 yards. Smith certainly has talent and has progressed each year and should be a number one wide receiver one day. The Ravens would like to lock Torrey up for the long haul as Coach Harbaugh stated to the Baltimore Sun at the owners meetings in March, saying that he wanted Smith, along with cornerback Jimmy Smith, in Baltimore for a long time.
Steve Smith: Smith, the former Carolina Panther, joined the Ravens in March when the team signed the five-time Pro Bowler to a three-year contract. The veteran wide receiver, who has played his entire 13-year NFL career with Carolina, has appeared in 182 career games, recording 836 receptions for 12,197 yards (14.6 avg.) and 67 touchdowns. Last season, the firey Smith appeared in 15 games with the Panthers, hauling in 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns.
“Steve is a Ravens-style football player,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a press release. “He always has been in our eyes, it’s just that he’s been playing for another team. We’ve respected and admired the way he plays, and we’ve always been challenged playing against him.”
Marlon Brown: Brown was a solid find for Ozzie Newsome and company during the 2013 offseason. Brown, undrafted out of the University of Georgia, posted a successful rookie campaign for the purple and black. The former Bulldog saw action in 14 games (was inactive in two due to injury) and led the Ravens in touchdown receptions (7), posted the second-highest number of catches by a wide receiver on the team (49) and was a red-zone favorite of Flacco’s.
Jacoby Jones: The electrifying playmaker returned to Baltimore after testing the free agent waters in March. Jones agreed to a four-year contract that kept the wide receiver/kick returner a Raven. Jones saw action in 12 games, including nine starts (missed four games due to a knee injury), and finished fourth on the team with 37 receptions (second-highest total of his career) for 455 yards and two TDs. Brought back more for his return duties than anything else, Jones does provide continuity with Flacco even if on the field in a limited role.
“My role is always the same. Whatever they want me to do,” Jones stated during his press conference upon returning to Baltimore, “I’ll do it. If it’s getting there to make a certain block or returning a kick or punt or just this one play to stretch the field and open up this guy, whatever my role is, I’ll do it.”
Michael Campanaro: The Ravens made a surprise move in the 2014 draft when they sent a 2015 sixth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns to get back into the seventh round to select Campanaro, the 5′ 9″, 192-pound wide receiver out of Wake Forest who has local ties in Howard County, Maryland. Campanaro, the former River Hill High School standout could provide the Ravens with a slot receiver who can learn the tricks of the trade from those with NFL experience.
“I think he’s shifty,” Assistant GM Eric DeCosta said about Campanaro. “I think he’s tough. I think he’s very quick. He plays the slot, which is kind of a niche position, and he does that very, very well. [He’s] been a very productive player. I think that he’s a good run-after-catch guy. I think he’s competitive. He can catch punts; he should have a chance to contribute.”
While the above players are locks, head coach John Harbaugh and those within the organization have preached throughout the offseason that competition is key. Looking ahead to a group of youngsters that will have to fight to see the field in 2014, competition will be key with such limited spaces available in the wide receiver corps.
Outside of Smith, Smith, Brown and Jones the Ravens have five other wideouts listed on the roster: LaQuan Williams, Deonte Thompson, Aaron Mellette, Kamar Aiken and Gerrard Sheppard.
Williams returned this offseason for his second stint with the team with hopes to make the club via playing a special teams role. In his first stint with the Ravens (2011-2012), Williams, the former Maryland Terp, appeared in 23 games and recorded four receptions for 46 yards while primarily playing on special teams.
Whether or not Thompson makes the roster remains to be seen with the influx of fresh talent the team has brought in this offseason. In 2013, the undrafted wide receiver/return specialist played in seven games, and established career highs in receptions (10) and receiving yards (96). Thompson could be a viable option as an insurance policy to Jacoby Jones in the return game after he averaged a career-high 28.7 yards per KOR (seven for 201).
Mellette is hoping to return to form he showed last preseason where the 2013 7th-round draft pick shined catching nine passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Mellette, who ended up on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury is a player to keep an eye on throughout the summer. He should be one hundered percent by the time the Ravens hit the practice field.
Kamar Aiken appears to be a long shot to make the roster, even though the Ravens inked him to the practice squad squad in October 2013. The jounrneyman wide receiver has made the practice squad rounds since entering the league in 2011 after signing as a rookie free agent with the Buffalo Bills. In 2013, Aiken, prior to joining the Ravens, appeared in three preseason games with the Patriots, recording two catches for 23 yards before being released.
Sheppard signed with the Ravens as a rookie free agent back in May of 2013. Sheppard, the former Towson Tiger and McDonogh pass catcher, has another year under his belt after spending the season on the practice squad. At Towson, Sheppard saw action in 23 games (nine starts), totaling 52 catches for 584 receiving yards and five TDs in two seasons, per the team’s website.
Earlier this week the Ravens announced the signing of 17 undrafted free agents that will compete to wear the purple and black this fall.
Of those 17 undrafted free agents, just two of them (Jace Davis and Jeremy Butler) are wide receivers.
Davis, the 6-1, 206-lb pass catcher out of Northern Colorado appeared in 43 career games in his collegiate career. Davis recorded 162 receptions for 2,470 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He averaged 15.2 yards per catch while at Northern Colorado, earning first-team All-Big Sky honors in 2010 and honorable mention All-Conference accolades in 2012. He posted 44 catches for 673 receiving yards and five touchdowns during his 2013 senior campaign.
Butler, a Tennessee-Martin standout recorded 141 receptions for 1,953 yards (13.9 avg.) and 20 TDs in two seasons for the Skyhawks, including 90 catches for 1,203 yards and 10 TDs as a senior. Prior to his time at UT-Martin, Butler played at the College of the Sequoias, where he appeared in 11 games, recording 48 receptions for 617 yards and six touchdowns in 2011.
As OTA’s begin, the picture should begin to clear up as to who could be here for the 2014 season and perhaps beyond. The competition is stiff and it seems every year someone will stand out and catch the eye of coaches.
There is a long time between now and when the season gets under way, and I’m looking forward to watching the wide receiver battle unfold.
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