It's certainly not unheard of for an undrafted free agent rookie to turn enough heads in training camp to earn himself a spot on a team's 53-man roster—it happens every year, on nearly every team.
This year, there's certainly an undrafted head-turner on the Baltimore Ravens roster who has a very good chance to make the team's final roster. Let's take a closer look at who this player is and what he'll need to do to secure himself a spot.
The Contender: WR Deonte Thompson
Deonte Thompson is an undrafted rookie out of Florida with a history of inconsistent production. He had issues with drops in college and is rather raw in running routes, but he has incredible speed and isn't afraid of contact.
Thompson's best college season came in 2010, in which he caught 38 passes for 570 yards and a score. He has a total of nine college touchdowns and also comes with special teams experience, as a member of the coverage team.
Thompson was heralded heading out of high school but he never seemed to meet his potential in college. As a member of the Ravens, however, he's been impressive. He stood out at both OTAs and minicamp and is now very much in the battle for a roster spot at the very least and the No. 3 receiver job at best.
For Thompson to make the 53-man roster, a few things will have to happen, not the least of which includes him beating out the competition. With the Ravens not keeping more than six receivers on the active roster (and potentially five) and Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones guaranteed three of them, the battle for the remaining two or three spots will be fierce.
Even though the Ravens aren't the most creative team when it comes to their passing game, having a player like Thompson on their active roster might give them more reason to experiment. Thompson is fast—as in, he ran a 4.32 second 40-yard dash at his pro day—and as long as he can reign in his drops issue, he could be a major, deep threat for strong-armed quarterback Joe Flacco.
The issue for Thompson is that he'll need to make a compelling argument to stick on the roster. The Ravens are feeling quite optimistic that Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams (who made the team as an undrafted rookie last year) will have significant second-year leaps.
And there's also fellow rookie Tommy Streeter, who also possesses high-level speed and the ability to play gunner on special teams and who also happened to cost the Ravens a draft pick, so it's possible that Streeter lands himself a roster spot as a result.
To Thompson's credit, he's already outshined Streeter in minicamp and OTAs and if he continues to impress in training camp, the Ravens shouldn't have a problem giving him a roster spot over Streeter if he proves to be more talented.
The only receiver currently on the Ravens roster that shouldn't be a threat to Thompson's chances to make the 53-man is David Reed. Though Reed thought he would be healthy enough to participate in camp right away, he's sat out the first two days while his knee continues to heal from a torn ACL and subsequent surgery.
The more time he sits out, the lower his chances become to stick around, considering all of the other, more dynamic receivers the Ravens have on the roster. Thompson would have to seriously regress once it's time to practice in full pads for him to slip behind Reed.
What He Needs to Do
First and foremost, Thompson needs to make the most of the limited first-team reps he's going to get in camp. The Ravens are more interested in making sure their established receivers get as much chance to develop as possible—especially Doss and Williams—which means Thompson may be seeing the majority of his passes coming from backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor rather than Flacco.
When Thompson does get to work with the first team, he needs to prove that his inconsistencies are behind him. He needs to pull down 90 percent or more of the passes thrown to him, he has to continually show that he's not afraid of contact and he needs to own the middle of the field.
He also needs opportunities to show off his blazing speed, both in passing drills and in special teams practices. Undrafted rookies have to prove they are more than one-trick ponies; they need to gladly and effectively be special teams contributors to warrant using a roster spot on them.
Thompson has momentum on his side, and that's good. He's continued to look sharp at the start of training camp this week and if he keeps that up, it's more than possible his first-team reps will continue to grow.
A decision on Thompson's future won't come until after preseason games are in the bag. If he can successfully showcase his talents in a real, in-game situation, that will go a long way in his bid for an active roster spot. Maybe Thompson ends up a practice squad member this year, but if he keeps up what he started at minicamps and OTAs, he seems like quite the candidate for one of those 53 spots.