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A look at the Ravens wide receiver situation

August 19, 2013 1 comment

  The trade of Anquan Boldin this offseason, combined with the untimely injury to tight end Dennis Pitta has the Ravens scrambling for that short yardage possession receiver to fill the void left by those two players. Many including myself hoped one of the plethora of young wideouts the Ravens have at their disposal would have stepped up into that role, but that hasn’t happened yet a few weeks into training camp

  Trade for a WR! Bring someone else in! If you listen to talk radio that is what you hear the most. While the idea of bringing a new WR in is very popular, the type of guy that would fit that role and be available is very hard to find. When the Ravens signed a 37 year old Brandon Stokley, that should have sent a clear message that the pickings are slim this time of year at any position, much less one of increasing importance like WR is these days.

  Complicating matters even more is the fact that while the Ravens haven’t found that one guy to step up yet, they do have valuable receivers down the depth chart who play crucial roles on special teams, and who the Ravens have invested precious time and energy in developing the past couple years. There is already a logjam of young drafted and undrafted wide receivers, one or even two of which would have to go if the Ravens did find a willing trade partner.

First let’s go over what the Ravens are working with as we sit here today.

The Locks –

Torrey Smith – The clear number one wide receiver, and obviously he isn’t going anywhere. From all reports he is having a fantastic camp and has improved his overall play to take that next step. He should be lining up outside for years to come as the Ravens brass hit the jackpot with this 2nd rounder.

Jacoby Jones – While clearly not  2nd wide receiver material,  he is next in line on the depth chart behind Smith with the lack of experience further down the roster at receiver. His deep speed and gamebreaking return ability make him another guy who the Ravens just aren’t going to let go with so many question marks behind him.

The Young unproven receivers –

Tanden Doss – The “projected” number 2 hasn’t really done much of anything so far during camp, but with a 4th round pick, a cheap salary this year and next it is hard to see the Ravens parting ways with the youngster. Ozzie Newsome always says that you don’t know what you have in a player until  after his third year in the NFL, and this is that year for Doss. He is the ideal type of player for a Boldin type role, and is it very unlikely the Ravens let him go after only two years. The Ravens value their draft picks very highly, and Doss will have every opportunity to show he is what they thought he was when drafted.

David Reed – A 5th round pick in 2010, while Reed has not excelled on offense he is a valuable piece on the special teams coverage unit, and can return kicks as well. We all know how the coaching staff values special teams players, and that is pretty much what Reed is a this point. Making matters even more complicated is the fact the Ravens signed Reed to a 2 year contract this offseason, instead of the 1 year RFA tender he was in line for. One would think that the commitment to a multi year deal would make it hard for the Ravens to part ways with Reed.  Another huge issue is they paid him a  1.14 million signing bonus to go along with the contract, which would be completely lost if he was released.

Laquan Williams – An undrafted free agent signed in 2011, Williams is another receiver down the depth chart that has shown flashes on offense but is really still developing. That alone is going to make the Ravens wary of parting ways with Laquan, who is will enter his restricted free agent year in 2014 under Ravens control. Williams is also a huge asset on various special teams units, making it unlikely he would be someone on the outside looking in with what he has showed so far in camp this year.

Deonte Thompson – Another undrafted free agent, Thompson was a guy who most said to keep an eye on as 2013 training camp got underway. He was sometimes running with the 1st unit offense during practice, but an injury in the first preseason game derailed the progress he was making. Luckily the injury was reported to not be serious, so hopefully he can get back on the field soon and keep improving. While not the ideal underneath type receiver the Ravens are looking for, enough people in the Castle are high enough on him that getting rid of him is pretty unlikely. He is also under contract through 2014 making the league minimum, so even a little glimpse of potential will keep him around.

Tommy Streeter – Yet another young and up and comer, we hope, Streeter got “red shirted” last year with a “serious injury” which forced him to IR . Streeter again will have an uphill battle to make the 53 man roster, and being he is practice squad eligible that is likely his final destination for the 2013 season. Streeter doesn’t have much tape available for other teams to look at thus far, so the Ravens probably wouldn’t have to worry about him clearing waivers and remaining on the reserve unit.

Aaron Mellette – a 7th round pick in the 2013 draft, Mellette is extremely raw and probably headed for the practice squad along with Streeter. He is a very one dimensional player at this point of his young NFL career, and it is unlikely any team would steal him away off the 8 man reserve squad. His odds of making the 53 man roster are pretty slim, he needs work and there are just too many guys ahead of him at this point.

The old wily veteran –

Brandon Stokley – The recent signing of Stokley was mainly due to the injury Pitta suffered, and the lack of experience running underneath routes from the young wide receivers. I stated pretty emphatically on social media that it was no guarantee Stokley will be in the roster after final cuts and I am sticking with that line of thinking (John Harbaugh also said this in an interview after the practice at the Naval Academy). He is 37 years old, provides no value outside of receiver on special teams, and would have to bump one of the young guys mentioned above out of the picture in order to make the team. It just doesn’t make much sense to get rid of one of the young receivers for a guy like Stokely, who has no future with this team and so far up there in age.

  OK so if you were adding all that up at home that is no less than 9 wide receivers in the mix, 7 if you put Mellette and Streeter on the practice squad. The problem we now have even with no other WR added from the outside, is that is one too many with the Ravens almost certainly carrying 6 going into the season. The Ravens have never carried 7 wideouts on the 53 man roster, and only started carrying 6 a couple years ago.

  So who goes? Your guess is as good as mine. I was going to say it had to be Reed if Stokley made it, but that 1.14m signing bonus they gave him a few months ago makes his spot on the team for 2013 not a lock, but extremely likely. Signing a guy to a two year deal with a signing bonus albeit small, and then cutting him 4 months later just doesn’t make much sense. The Ravens knew what they had with Reed when they gave him the contract, and obviously placed value in his role on the team with that commitment. Nothing has changed since that contract was signed, so what would make the Ravens change their mind on Reed now?

  The other young guys are either not practice squad eligible (Doss, Reed), or are too valuable with potential to risk being exposed to 31 other teams through the waiver process to make it to the practice squad (Williams, Thompson). The lone exception being Streeter, who I think they could sneak onto the squad without any fear of someone scooping him up.

  Also complicating matters is the fact that projected starting TE Ed Dickson is currently injured, and still will be when final cuts are made, requiring the Ravens to possibly carry a fourth  tight end for the early part of the season. That roster spot could have been used for a 7th WR even if it was for a very short period of time at the beginning of the season until some other things shook out injury wise on offense. The Ravens could conceivably go into the season with only 3 TE on the roster, with the hopes Dickson is ready for week 1 at Denver. Although if Dickson wasn’t ready, the Ravens would be in a precarious situation with only 2 tight ends healthy for the first game.

  So there you have it. If anyone can make a good case to get rid of the young guys mentioned I would love to hear it, keeping in mind the time (and mid round draft pick in Doss’ case) invested and contract situations of all of those listed. It just doesn’t make much sense to jettison one of the young guys for a soon to be 37 year old receiver who can only help on offense, and is so old that even his value on that unit has to be questioned without Peyton Manning throwing him the ball.

  Many have speculated that Stokley is a near lock to make the team with the loss of Pitta and lack of underneath experience in the receiving core, but I wouldn’t bet on that. If it was me I roll the dice with the young guys, and re assess after a month or so of the season. Stokley will probably be without a team, and you can then sign him again if all else fails and it costs you no money in terms of cap dollars right now.

  The logjam after the first two receivers is very real, and I just can’t come up with a reason to cut any one of those youngsters, much less two of them in a trade scenario that adds yet another WR to the mix.

  I know one thing, I am glad I am not the one at the Castle making decisions for the final roster. They will have their work cut out for them, especially at the wide receiver position.

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