Ravens 2014 Positional Preview: Receivers / Tight Ends
On paper there appears to be plenty of weapons for Joe Flacco in 2014 with perhaps the most talented ever assembled at the respective receiver positions. Of course translating expectations to the field is always part of the challenge of Training Camp. A new offensive scheme,a rebuilt offensive line, and improved quarterback play all figure into the mix as well.
The competition should be interesting as it features a deep group. So who will land a spot come September?
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Let’s take a look:
2014 Depth Chart:
WR: Torrey Smith, Steve Smith SR, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Jeremy Butler, Michael Campanaro, LaQuan Williams, Gerrard Sheppard, Deonte Thompson,, Mike Willie, Kamar Aiken, Jace Davis
TE: Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels, Crockett Gilmore, Nathan Overbay, Phillip Supernaw
Torrey Smith had a breakout season last year and became Flacco’s top target. He achieved career highs in catches and yards and showed that he was more than just a player to stretch the field. He enters his contract year this season and his play has sparked debate over weather the team should look to extend him and just how much he’s worth. If he wants the big contract he’ll need to reach another level with plenty of competition to draw Flacco attention in the fold.
The team snagged vet Steve Smith after he was surprisingly cut by the Carolina Panthers. He’s 35 and is coming off a down year but he should provide the unit with the competitive fire that it missed by dealing Anquan Boldin over a year ago. He still looks like he can help the Ravens on short routes and over the middle.
The slot receiver position appears up for grabs with second-year man Marlon Brown, speedy Jacoby Jones, and a host of other vying for the spot. The question may appear to be moot if Baltimore plans on showing more double Tight End looks. Still Brown was a surprise last season as he made a late push to make the team and used his opportunity to set a franchise rookie record with seven touchdowns. He’s a big target and could be useful as a red-zone threat. For his playing time to increase he’ll need to up his consistency and provide some impact plays as well. Jones is an elite return man but he showed progress as a receiver last season. His speed is a tremendous asset as he can break for scores at anytime but the question is can the Ravens find a way to harness that potential in Kubiak’s scheme?
After these first four, the way the final roster spots shake out at the position is anyone’s guess. The Ravens could carry six at the most depending on their needs. LaQuan Williams could be a possibility and was re-signed more likely for his Special Teams contributions when he was with in the team in’11 and ’12. He could be a good fit here but the team is loaded with intriguing options for the final positions. Deonte Thompson was derailed by a foot injury last year and then ran into off-field trouble. He needs to re-establish himself as the tough, speedy play-maker many saw over the past few pre-seasons. Rookie Michael Campanaro has been tabbed as a potential Wes Welker clone but a hamstring issue has hindered his early progress. Jeremy Butler is another player who’s gotten off-season buzz. An undrafted player with solid hands who impressed during OTAs. There’s also Towson product Gerrard Sheppard who spent most of last season on the practice squad. He’s shown flashes as well with a solid work ethic.
The loss of Dennis Pitta last season can’t be truly measured. His 5-year extension shows just how important he is to the offense and now fully healed should lead the way. Owen Daniels should be an upgrade over the departed Ed Dickson but there are some health concerns about the former All-Pro. His familiarity with Kubiak should be a huge plus as long as he appears ready to go. Gilmore was selected in the third round of this year’s draft as should be slotted as the third Tight End and potential replacement for Daniels. He’s huge and handle blocking duties as well as display an ability to catch the ball too.
The Ravens may have the most talent they’ve ever assembled to catch the ball in their history. There are plenty of options and it’s up to offensive guru Gary Kubiak and Joe Flacco to figure out which players serve the best role depending on the situation. I’d expect Pitta to reclaim the role of top receiver and could have the huge season he was projected for in 2013. That may leave Torrey Smith with the same feast of famine production that we’ve seen out of him week to week. Steve Smith should be a solid addition as his savy and fire should bring something that was lacking from the team at times last year.
The talk all off-season has been about double Tight End sets and we’ll see just how much that comes true. If so Daniels could play a big role but I’d also expect Marlon Brown to get his chances too. The remaining receiver spots are muddled at this point and it will probably take until late August to get a clear idea who wears Ravens purple. Personally I like Williams because of his Special Team ability but he will probably be a long shot in favor or Butler or Sheppard who both have more upside as pass catchers. If Campanaro can’t get things going I could see him getting stashed on Injured Reserve.