Once a perennial weak point of Baltimore’s roster, wide receiver has become one of the strong suits for the Ravens as 2014 training camp approaches.
Unlike in recent years – particularly 2013, when there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the position heading into the season – there is little worry that the Ravens will have at least an adequate receiver corps this season, if not one that can be a difference maker in some games.
The group of receivers is far from complete, though, as the competition for roster spots took an unexpected turn on Tuesday, when second-year receiver Aaron Mellette – someone who showed promise in the preseason last year – was released.
The Ravens have a top four of Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown, but after that core, the race is wide open for the final spots.
With an open competition, a strong first preseason and a productive college career (304 receptions, 44 touchdowns at Elon), Mellette figured to factor into the mix, and based on talent, he likely could have made the team.
But perhaps the knee injury that cut his rookie season short is truly a long-term concern, and the potential Mellette has may never be achieved, whether it may be on a second chance in Baltimore or elsewhere.
With Mellette out of the mix for now, which receivers currently on the roster have an inside track to a roster spot?
The Ravens traditionally carry six wide receivers on the final 53-man roster, and barring any injuries to the top four receivers mentioned above, there will be two open roster spots for the taking in Baltimore.
Campanaro already had a good shot to both make the team and have a defined role as a rookie, and Mellette’s release makes it even more likely that he ultimately takes the fifth receiver spot with the team.
A quick, agile slot receiver who was compared to Julian Edelman by Ravens assistant GM Eric DeCosta, Campanaro has the talent to become one of Baltimore’s top three receiving options in future years. For now, though, he battles a talented crop ahead of him, but even as the potential fifth receiver, Campanaro should be able to sneak in some offensive snaps as a rookie.
An offseason arrest didn’t help his cause, but the fact that Deonte Thompson is still with the team makes it evident that off-field issue won’t affect his roster status with the team.
A former undrafted free agent that came to Baltimore known for his speed, Thompson has had a moderately productive first two years (15 receptions, including 10 in 2013), considering the fact that any sustained role with a team is a success for an undrafted player.
Thompson’s speed has proved to be more potential than something that has led to him being a viable player in Baltimore’s offense, though, and unless he becomes a more dependable option in the receiving game, the team will likely be able to find better options elsewhere.
If the Ravens need an insurance policy at kick returner (seven returns for 201 yards last season) and someone with experience on offense, Thompson could stick around for a third season with the team.
With Mellette not in the fold, LaQuan Williams now goes from veteran given a second chance with his first team to a player having a legitimate shot at making the team. Released by the Ravens during final cuts last year, Williams had a short-lived stay in New England last season before ending up back in Baltimore.
Williams spent his first two NFL seasons with the Ravens, playing sparingly both as a receiver and special teamer. If he makes the team, it won’t be for his receiving ability. But if the Ravens are looking for an experienced special teamer who could provide value in that aspect over a receiving threat for the sixth receiver spot, perhaps Williams has a shot to revive his career in Baltimore.
Deonte Thompson in 2012, Marlon Brown in 2013, Jeremy Butler in 2014? The Ravens have had annual success in finding undrafted rookie wide receivers, and perhaps Butler is next in line to carry the tradition.
Butler received some praise before the draft and that praise has continued during the early goings of his Ravens career, as he made some plays during OTAs working with the second and third-team offenses.
Having success in a t-shirt and shorts means almost nothing, but Butler was no slouch in college, catching 90 passes for 1,203 yards and 10 touchdowns during his final season with Tennessee-Martin. When the pads go on, we’ll see if Butler has what it takes to join Thompson and Brown as undrafted success stories.
With an open field for the remaining receiver spots on the roster, it won’t be a shock to see Butler make a strong case for himself.