For each of the 90 men that have been fortunate enough to be on the Baltimore Ravens pre-season roster, today is truly “the first day of the rest of their life.” The next few weeks will test their mettle, their commitment and their resolve. These weeks will be the gauntlet through which they must travel to determine if they will remain and if they will go home.
Sometime before 4:00 PM on August 27, 2014, fifteen players that are currently on the roster will be told “Coach wants to see you and bring your play book.” Head Coach John Harbaugh will talk with them, delivering encouraging and comforting words then collect the tablet that contains the play book and wish them well, but his real message will be un-mistakable: “you are no longer a Raven.”
The scene will be repeated again for 22 additional players by 9:00 PM on August 31 when the Ravens cut their active roster to the required 53 players. Among those who will be fighting to remain on the roster are 12 Wide Receivers. Three of them (Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr. and Jacoby Jones), barring injury or serious off the field indiscretions, are assured roster spots. Another (Marlon Brown) probably has a roster spot locked up also. Brown is a big, rangy receiver with a great “catching radius” that established himself last season as a legitimate “Red Zone” threat, snagging seven touchdown passes from Joe Flacco.
Three of the remaining Wide Receiver candidates are rookies. They are Jeremy Butler, an un-drafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee-Martin, Michael Campanaro, the Ravens 2014 seventh round draft pick from Wake Forest, and University of Northern Colorado product Jace Davis. According to reports from OTAs and Mini-camp, Jeremy Butler has been the most impressive of the rookies so far.
Two others (LaQuan Williams and Deonte Thompson) are incumbents. Williams, if he remains with the team, will be entering his fourth season as a Raven. During that time, he has been injured on several occasions. In 2013, he was waived with a designation of “waived-injured”. He then became an unrestricted free agent when the Ravens removed him from the Injured Reserve list by entering into an “injury settlement” agreement with the Wide Receiver.
After a brief stint with the New England Patriots that ended with Williams being cut, he re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens. While with the Ravens, Williams had four receptions for 46 yards, all of which occurred during the 2011 season. He is, however, a productive Special Teams player; a fact that might carry some weight with the coaches.
Deonte Thompson’s two years with the Ravens was also marred by injuries, however, most of those injuries were not serious enough to put him on IR. In 2012, his rookie season, Thompson suffered a thigh injury but missed no time. He was injured again in 2013 with a foot injury that did cost him some time but did not end his season. His foot injury, in 2013 was followed by a concussion later that year.
Both Williams and Thompson are talented receivers, but Williams’ value lies in his Special Teams play and Thompson’s is in his speed. Deonte Thompson could develop into a legitimate third or fourth receiver, if he can stay healthy and stay out of trouble. Thompson was one of several Ravens players that “ran afoul of the law” during the 2014 off season.
Kamar Aiken, who has spent time with the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills, was signed by the Ravens to a “futures” contract. He has been active for three games during his NFL career but has amassed no statistics. Aiken has little or no chance of making the Ravens roster as a wide-out, so his only chance will be on special teams. I seriously doubt that we will have a chance to see Kamar Aiken in a Ravens uniform this Fall.
Another off season pick up was Mike Willie. Although Willie, at 6’3”, 218 lbs, is tall with a good “catching radius”, he has below average speed (4.77 seconds in the 40) and would be limited to the slot. He spent his entire rookie year (2013) with the San Diego Chargers on IR because of a knee injury. Willie does not appear to have much of a chance of sticking with the Ravens either.
The last of the twelve contenders is Gerard Sheppard, a 6’2”, 211 lbs local product, born in Owings Mills, Maryland and, after transferring from UCONN, played at Towson State University, just North of Baltimore. Sheppard ran a 4.48 seconds 40 yards dash at his pro-day and has been described as being a very hard worker but is still very “raw.”. Sheppard spent the 2013 season on the Ravens’ practice squad and is projected to be a possession receiver used primarily in the slot. It is very likely Sheppard, if the Ravens can get him through waivers, will also spend 2014 on the practice squad.
Other than the four who seem to be assured roster spot, Jeremy Butler, LaQuan Williams and Deonte Thompson seem to be the most viable candidates for the fifth and sixth (if the Ravens keep six) Wide Receiver slots. I like Butler’s chances. He is a 6’2”, 218 lbs “bulldog”. He has a strong work ethic and an Anquan Boldin like fierceness and determination. He enjoys contact and wants to ’do the dirty work” between the hash marks.
The Ravens do have a lot of Wide Receivers in camp but only a hand full of them have the talent and skills necessary to make the Ravens opening day roster. With a good showing in the pre-season, Jeremy Butler might join “Steve Smith and Associates” better known as “The Law Firm.”