With Derrick Mason's sudden retirement, the already questioned receiving core of the Baltimore Ravens takes a massive hit. Mason was Baltimore's leading receiver three of the past four seasons and was about as sure-thing as you can get.
As "unflappable" as quarterback Joe Flacco may be, he needs to have talent at wide receiver to help him progress as a leader and to help Baltimore win.
The Ravens did sign veteran Drew Bennett, once a play maker with Tennessee, only to see him retire also.
Here are the leading candidates to win the starting jobs in Baltimore.
Clayton, the most experienced receiver on the roster, will most likely be Flacco's No. 1 in 2009.
He is a small, explosive receiver who possesses great hands and has shown play making ability in recent years. In his 47 career starts, he posted 200 receptions for 2,636 yards and 10 TDs.
The 5'10" Clayton isn't the tallest receiver of this group (as a matter of a fact he's the shortest) but he has something that means more than height—experience.
Barring injury he will be the Ravens primary target if Mason does indeed stay retired.
-Clayton produced the best rookie campaign for a WR in franchise history in 2005, setting Ravens rookie records with 44 receptions for 471 yards and 2 receiving TDs.
-Clayton has eight career 100-yard games to his credit, the most in franchise history.
Here's one of the more intriguing players to watch for in 2009.
Williams is a tall, speedy wide receiver who can stretch the field and possesses good but not great hands. He could be a monster in the end zone with his great athletic ability and his vertical jump. Williams is a four-year veteran from the University of Oregon, drafted in the fourth round in 2006.
There's promise there but he must prove he can stay healthy for an entire campaign. If he can, he could be a treat to watch and could land the number two spot.
-Enters 2009 with 55 career receptions for 866 yards (15.7 avg.) and 3 TDs, including scoring catches of 77 and 70 yards.
Smith, the second year vet from New Mexico, was drafted in the fourth round of last year's draft. He fared well for himself last preseason but was not able to garner any playing time other than on special teams towards the later part of last season.
The Ravens do like his toughness, work ethic, and in their opinion he can rapidly progress as a receiver this year.
The Ravens see something in this kid. Maybe we don't see it but the fact that Cam Cameron likes him could factor into him getting playing time and not just at special teams.
-Saw action in five regular season and all three playoff games as a rookie in 2008, posting three solo special teams tackles.
-Drafted by the Ravens with their first fourth-round pick in 2008 (106th overall).
The ex-Bengal, ex-Patriot hasn't produced well on offense recently, but he was a standout on special teams for the Patriots last season. With the Ravens already-depleted wide outs, I wouldn't count Washington out just yet.
Washington did catch 31 balls in his sophomore campaign in 2004 with Cincinnati, but over the past two seasons in New England he has only gotten time on special teams. His athletic ability is enough to grant him playing time but if he wants to find a spot on Baltimore's offense he needs to step up.
His athletic ability is enough to grant him playing time, but if he wants to find a spot on Baltimore's offense he needs to step up.
-Netted a career-high 4 TD catches on 22 receptions for 299 yards, including a career-long 51-yard TD catch with Cincinnati in 2003.
-Posted career highs with 31 receptions for 378 yards and added 3 TDs with the Bengals in 2004.
-Enters 2009 with 73 career receptions for 896 yards and 9 TDs.
-Washington has also recorded 27 career special teams tackles, including a career-high 18 stops while with New England in 2007.
To answer the question: no, not necessarily.
I bet you're surprised to see him on the list. In Cam Cameron's offense a player with the athletic ability of Smith is always welcome.
Smith is entering the final year of his rookie contract after being sidelined early with severe illness. Smith missed most of the preseason and the first five weeks of the regular season before coming back to a clipboard as a backup to Joe Flacco. As a Ravens fan myself I feel for Smith and I want to see him succeed. So here's the "good luck to you" Troy!
Smith will see time at QB and WR multiple times this season in the Raven's version of the Wildcat. He might even throw to Flacco again!
-This section was supposed to be for the NFL, but I can't overlook the Heisman Trophy he won in 2006 with Ohio State.
-Started two games as a rookie (12/23/07 at Sea. and 12/30/07 vs. Pit.) in relief of injured starters Steve McNair (rest in peace) and Kyle Boller.
-Smith was the second rookie QB to start a game in franchise history—Kyle Boller did so in 2003.
-Enters 2009 having seen action in 10 games and has completed 43 of 80 passes for 534 yards (long of 79), 3 TDs, and no INTs for an 87.2 QB rating.
He's the rookie from Nicholls St. that everyone is talking about in camp.
“In Lardarius Webb, we got a young man that can help us on the defensive side of the ball and also help us with special teams because, he’s also a returner,” said general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome.
“You get a player like that that has the versatility that he has, you can see so many roles that he can play in, and a guy that has the potential to be both a safety and a corner. When John [Harbaugh] and the coaches are putting together their 45-man squad, to have someone with that type of flexibility makes their job very easy.”
The rookie can play corner, safety, and receiver, and he can produce on both ends of special teams. In high school he also played at quarterback.
Look for him on special teams early but if he opens some important eyes (mainly Cam Cameron and coach John Harbaugh) with his route running and hands he could also benefit the Ravens at receiver.
-Lardarius Webb was selected in the third round (88th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft.
-Set multiple records at multiple positions in 2008 for Nicholls State.
The most important thing to remember is the Ravens are a running team and with their outstanding defense they mostly control the clock on the ground. This doesn't mean that this man, Joe Flacco, doesn't want to pass.
With Baltimore's already thin depth and experience at receiver they could look to incorporate tight ends Todd Heap and L.J. Smith into the offense more.
The Ravens are looking to improve their record of 11-5 last season and in order to do that they have to be a complete team. The ball is in the receivers court now, preferably thrown by Mr. Flacco