Typically one of the low points of the roster for the Baltimore Ravens, wide receiver has quickly emerged as one of the offensive strongpoints for the team as the beginning of the 2014 season looms.
Historically a group that has lacked any top options and/or inherent depth, Baltimore has a deep, diverse set of receivers, with multiple additions that should help out the roster this season.
Notable new additions: Steve Smith and Michael Campanaro – The Ravens lacked any veteran presence at the position in 2013, with Jacoby Jones being the only receiver with more than three years of NFL experience to see notable playing time.
That has changed after an offseason snag of free agent Steve Smith, a 36-year-old, 13-year pro who was released by the Carolina Panthers. Now in the first non-Panthers uniform of his career, Smith comes to Baltimore as a much-needed experience upgrade, and he should be a regular in the offense as a starter opposite Torrey Smith.
Counting on a 36-year old in the twilight of his career to carry an offense is farfetched, but to expect Smith to be a 50+ catch player whose physical play brings an added dynamic to the offense isn’t.
Expect him to complement Torrey well and be a reliable option for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Campanaro, on the other hand, is the youngster of the group, and as a seventh-round pick, any contribution in his rookie campaign is welcomed. After all, Baltimore’s last two late-round wide receiver picks (Tommy Streeter and Aaron Mellette) never even touched the field in Baltimore.
Expectations should be much higher for Campanaro, who can be a long-term fixture in the offense. During his first NFL training camp, keep an eye on special teams first (where he’s likely to contribute) as well as how often/if offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak utilizes Campanaro’s slot ability early on.
Receiver with most to prove: Marlon Brown – As an undrafted rookie, making the team was a tough enough battle for Brown in 2013, let alone catching 49 passes for seven touchdowns and having the second-most snaps of any Ravens receiver.
Having wildly exceeded expectations in year one, Brown’s second season will provide more clarity as to whether or not he can be relied on as a sustainable option in the offense. He had his struggles as a rookie, sometimes not appearing to be on the same page as Flacco, but with a full offseason as a roster member under his belt, there should be more comfortability for Brown in the offense.
Expecting him to replicate 2013′s stat line may be unrealistic, but his development should be monitored in order to determine whether or not he’s a top three receiver for the Ravens in 2014 and future seasons.
Player to follow: Jacoby Jones – No receiver has to be more excited about the arrival of Kubiak than Jones, who has a father-son relationship with his former head coach. Personal relationship aside, the on-field relationship between Jones and Kubiak should be noticeable, as some of Jones’ most successful years as a wide receiver came with Kubiak in Houston.
Two of Jones’ three highest career reception totals came in his final two seasons in Houston (51 in 2010, 31 in 2011) and his highest touchdown-producing seasons came with Kubiak.
After a 2013 season in which Jones looked more dependable in the offense than in 2012, expectations should be for Jones to have a successful year, potentially as the third receiver.
Jones’ big-play ability on offense was even more evident in Houston than in his first two years with the Ravens, so expect him to be one of the main beneficiaries of Kubaik’s presence.