The Ravens passing game continues to develop and with Joe Flacco’s playoff performance expectations will be even greater for a group that has some unknown elements after Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta.
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Let’s take a look:
2013 Depth Chart:
WR- Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, LaQuan Williams, David Reed, Aaron Mellette, Tommy Streeter, Marcus Rivers
TE- Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Billy Bajema, Matt Furstenburg, Alex Silvestro
Torrey Smith continued his development with a strong sophomore season. He was Baltimore’s top deep threat whose speed always put pressure on opposing corners but he started to show that he was more than just a burner. Going forward he’s the Ravens top target for Joe Flacco as he continues to add to his ability to run more varied routes.
The focus on Smith is also due to the loss of fan favorite Anquan Boldin. A tough competitor with vice-like hands he had a stellar post-season which made his release hard for fans to swallow. Still the question on who gets chances to replace him is one of the biggest for the Ravens during this training camp because after Smith the team has a host of unproven options.
Jacoby Jones seems like the natural “next man up” as he was used last season as the number three receiver. However, he was a difference maker in the return game and an increased role would probably offer him less returns where he was most dangerous. Tandon Doss who will forever be known as “the player Joe Flacco drafted” will really get the chance to prove if Flacco was correct about him. He runs great routes and is more in the possession receiver type mold. The problem is that he doesn’t wow you and in a crowded competition that won’t help his cause for snaps. Conversely undrafted Deonte Thompson has plenty of sizzle with great speed and could push for more time as well after only catching five passes last season.
Former Terp LaQuan Williams carved a niche for himself on Special Teams as he played 11 games last season. Over the past two seasons he’s shown some flashes of potential but he’ll need to show more of that over the next several weeks on offense as well. David Reed has had injury issues (wrist, ACL) most of his career but his speed will keep the Ravens from moving on just yet. Tommy Streeter was on injured reserve last season with a foot injury. His size is what separates him from this group and he could be a valuable red zone threat if he continues to refine his game. Aaron Millette was picked up in the seventh round of this season’s draft. He’s an intriguing prospect and needs to show that he can make the jump from a small school to the NFL. Marcus Rivers was undrafted a season ago but did spend some time on Green Bay’s 90 man roster.
With uncertainty at the Receiver position it might make sense for Baltimore to unleash more Double Tight End sets with a pair of draft picks from 2010 – Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Pitta is coming off his best season catching 61 passes and 7 touchdowns. He has great chemistry with Flacco and could do even more this season with the departure of Boldin. Dickson saw his role diminish last season but has a interesting skill set and can stretch the seams. He should get more opportunities to contribute in 2013, he needs to take advantage. Nine-year vet Billy Bajema was mainly used as an extra blocker and was recently re-signed after he tested free agency.
Matt Furstenburg showed very well at the combine and as a result the Ravens scooped him up as an undrafted free agent. Alex Silvestro spent time on the practice squad and can play Defensive End as well. His best chance to getting a roster spot will be impressing on Special Teams.
Predictions: The only thing settled at receiver is that Torrey Smith is the man, after that is anyone’s guess although I think Dan Bryden has a pretty good handle on it. I’d expect Jones to see some more action in the offense but not too much as his contributions as a returned are just too valuable. That leaves Doss and Thompson battling it out for the next two spots. Doss has been Boldin’s understudy for two seasons and seems more natural as a move the chains receiver. I think that Thompson in the end overtakes him. Reed and Williams will be able to stick on the roster depending on how they contribute to Special Teams.
Pitta could take yet another step forward this season and place himself among the league’s top Tight Ends. Dickson is going to get more chances but I still have my doubts about his hands. I could also see Furstenburg as a possible successor to Bajema if he can block as well and display some receiving skills.