Who will start opposite Torrey Smith in 2013?
Despite the loss of 10 key contributors from the Super Bowl-winning roster, Ozzie Newsome has made a flurry of under-the-radar moves that prompted ESPN’s Matt Williamson to give them the highest offseason grade (A-) in the AFC.
The one position that Ozzie has yet to address is wide receiver. After trading away Anquan Boldin, not drafting a receiver until the seventh round and choosing not to sign an experienced free agent wideout, the Ravens are left with a gaping void at receiver.
Torrey Smith will step into the No. 1 receiver role but after that, playing time is completely up for grabs. The Ravens believe that their No. 2 receiver is already on the roster, and they’re giving their plethora of young receivers a chance to earn that spot.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at all the candidates that are vying for the No. 2 spot.
BaltimoreRavens.com reports that LaQuan has been outstanding in two Ravens’ training camps so far, which is why he is still on the roster after going undrafted. He is athletic and has showed off his big-play potential in practice, but he hasn’t gotten many opportunities during the regular season as a receiver.
He did make two clutch catches in a road victory against the Steelers in 2011, but most of his playing time has come on special teams.
Unfortunately, I don’t see that changing this season as there are other receivers who have shown more upside and polish. His roster spot will be dependent on how valuable he can be as a special-teamer, but LaQuan may be a victim of the numbers game with more receivers in Baltimore than there are spots.
Streeter has an elite combination of size and speed, which is why the Ravens are intrigued by him. Standing at 6’5”, he has a large height advantage over most defensive backs, but he also posted a 4.37 40-yard dash time at the combine in 2012.
“Touchdown Tommy” could develop into a red-zone threat, but after being on injured reserve for all of last season, he is still very raw.
BaltimoreRavens.com reported that he showed off more refined route running and greater physicality in OTAs and minicamp, but he is still a developmental prospect at this point. With his unique blend of length and quickness, however, it will be interesting to see whether the Ravens would cut him or risk placing him on the practice squad where he could get signed by another team.
Many pundits expected the Ravens to select a wide receiver much earlier in the draft, but they surprisingly waited until the seventh round to select Aaron Mellette.
The Elon product dominated at the FCS level, racking up 304 receptions for 4,524 yards and 44 touchdowns in 45 games. There are questions regarding the level of competition he played against in college, but he was productive against the strong teams he faced.
Mellette grabbed 11 catches for 180 yards and one touchdown against Vanderbilt in 2011, and he posted 13 receptions for 247 yards and three scores against Appalachian State in his senior year. He also had a good outing at the Senior Bowl.
While he doesn’t project to be a deep threat in the NFL, BaltimoreRavens.com claims that his good size, solid route running and ability to make catches in traffic could make him an effective possession receiver. The Ravens don’t normally cut their draft picks, so I would be surprised to see him not make the roster.
In March, David Reed was re-signed to a two-year contract as the Ravens are hoping to finally see what he can do at wide receiver.
He is an explosive athlete and could be a dangerous slot receiver with the ability to rack up yards after the catch. While he hasn’t produced a great deal at wide receiver, the coaching staff has been impressed by his hands and toughness. His new contract is a sign of their faith in him and how highly they think of his potential as a wideout.
Reed’s biggest challenge has been staying healthy. A fractured wrist ended his rookie year, and then he tore his ACL in 2011 which delayed his return last season. He made it back for the team’s final five regular-season games, catching five passes for 66 yards.
While most fans will remember him for his two return fumbles in a loss to Seattle, Reed has shown promise as a returner. He was leading the league in average yards per kickoff return in 2010 before his wrist injury ended his season early.
If Jacoby Jones impresses enough at receiver for his responsibility in the offense to increase significantly, the Ravens will probably want to take him out of the returning role. If that happens, returning kickoffs might be Reed’s best shot at seeing significant playing time this season.
As a fourth-round pick with the most in-game experience of this group outside of Jacoby Jones, Doss is in a prime position to grab the No. 2 or No. 3 spot. Doss had a good minicamp and BaltimoreRavens.com reported that he seemed to be the one who was running with the first-teamers the most, although everybody had their shot.
Coming out of Indiana, Doss was highly praised for his excellent hands and ability to catch the ball away from his body—a trait Joe Flacco noticed in his pre-draft scouting in 2011. Those hands were a little slow to translate to the NFL, but Doss was more involved in the offense last year spelling Jacoby Jones as the third wide receiver. Doss caught seven balls for 123 yards and a score, the first touchdown of his professional career.
Hampered by nagging injuries in his first couple of years, Doss has looked to be in better shape this offseason and will get every opportunity to prove himself as a starting-caliber receiver.
The man known around the Ravens camp as “DT” claims to have run the 40-yard dash in 4.23 seconds. I have been looking online and I’ve found official times as low as 4.28. Regardless, one thing is clear: Deonte Thompson is a fast, fast man.
The Florida track standout is the fastest Raven, but his game is not purely about speed. While there were questions about his ability to play receiver in the NFL—according to BaltimoreRavens.com, a number of teams worked him out as a defensive back during his pre-draft workouts—wide receivers coach Jim Hostler said in a recent press conference that he has been extremely impressed with Thompson’s ability to create separation and finish plays.
According to an article on BaltimoreSun.com, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was also very complimentary of Deonte, pointing out his “excellent route running” and his ability to sink his hips and change direction very quickly.
Thompson was impressive enough to make the squad as an undrafted free agent last year, and his combination of blazing speed and precise route running will force the Ravens to get him on the field more this season.
Jim Caldwell told BaltimoreRavens.com that if the season began today, Jacoby Jones would be starting opposite Torrey Smith as the No. 2 receiver. He is the oldest receiver on the roster and he has the most experience.
Despite this, I don’t think that Jacoby Jones is going to be the starting wide receiver in Week 1 of the 2013 season.
First, the Ravens would like to keep him in the same role as last year if possible: No. 3 receiver who can stretch the field and be a Pro Bowl returner. He was a dynamic, game-changing force as a returner last year—a home-run threat on every return. He was a huge part of a unit that ranked first in the Football Outsiders' special teams rankings.
More importantly, I don’t think Jacoby is a No. 2 wide receiver. He is not a great route-runner and drops were a concern while he was a Texan. He is better suited as a third wide receiver who takes the top off defenses.
He will still be a valuable part of the Ravens offense and a big play waiting to happen, but if none of the other receivers on the roster impress and Jones is still left as the No. 2, I would expect the Ravens to bring in outside help.
The Ravens will probably keep six wide receivers on the roster like they did last year, and these are the guys that I think will make the cut this season:
Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson, Tandon Doss, Aaron Mellette and David Reed.
As I discussed in the previous slide, I think Jacoby Jones is going to have pretty much the same role as he did last year. The two guys that have the best shot at taking the No. 2 spot are Doss and Thompson.
Regardless of which player gains the starting role, expect Jim Caldwell to get both of them on the field more in 2013.
Who’s my No. 2? Deonte Thompson
Let me know who you think will make the roster and win the starting job in the comments.