Ravens Position Battle: Logjam at Wide Receiver

Could this be a make-or-break preseason for receiver LaQuan Williams? - Rob Carr

The Ravens have a plethora of players vying for six, or possibly seven, spots. This will be one of the tougher groups for Baltimore's coaching staff to select.

Even though the Ravens traded Anquan Boldin to the 49ers, the receiving group might be as talented and deep as its ever been.

This can, in a good sense, create a conundrum for a coach. A year ago, the Ravens brought on six receivers and added a seventh when David Reed came off the PUP list. With the type of young talent on the roster, it's not out of the question for Baltimore to open the season with seven receivers on the roster.

Here's a quick look at the competition that's about to break open, beginning with rookies, quarterbacks and injured vets practicing on Tuesday:

The locks

The Ravens will open the season with Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss as their top three receivers. Smith and Jones predominantly play out wide and Doss can be used as a slot receiver, though he's trained at both. For the past two years, Doss backed Boldin up, given they have similar skill sets. Of course, Boldin was a much more accomplished receiver with far better physical attributes.

Doss, for now, is slated as the top slot receiver when Baltimore goes to three-receiver sets. With that stated, It's time for the former fourth-round pick to elevate his game. In two years, Doss has just seven receptions for 123 yards and one touchdown.

Probably safe

The Ravens signed David Reed to a two-year, $2.5 million contract, with $1.14 million in bonuses. He can be considered safe for now based on both versatility and investment. Reed can play both the slot and out wide, and can contribute on special teams as a return specialist and on coverage units. His versatility goes a long way in the minds of the coaches, even though he's had his moments—most notably his two lost fumbles against Seattle two years ago.

Here's where it's murky

After the top four receivers, the Ravens have five receivers competing for the final two, or possibly three, spots. Deonte Thompson, LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter, Aaron Mellette and Marlon Brown all have the talent to latch on in some capacity.

Thompson has the versatility factor down. He can play special teams as a return specialist, having been active for the first six games of the 2012 season. However, his fumble against Kansas City cost him his job and active-for-games status. He's the fastest receiver on the team and can run crisp routes. But as an undrafted rookie in 2012, there's not much investment there. If the coaching staff wants to test out some recent draft picks, Thompson could wind up out of Baltimore.

Williams has made the 53-man roster two years in a row but hasn't seen much time as a receiver. Out of 12 career targets, he has four receptions for 46 yards. He has mostly been a contributor on special teams. But Williams has impressed in preseason games, giving him an NFL salary the last two seasons. This is a make-or-break preseason for Williams with the added talent Baltimore has in camp.

Streeter effectively redshirted in 2012, given that the Ravens placed him on injured reserve for a sprained foot toward the end of the 2012 preseason. Streeter's one of those low risk, high reward receivers. Grabbing him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, there's little investment involved. But based on his tangibles—6-foot-6, 4.4 speed—Streeter possesses some potential that could pay off in a big way. Streeter still has a lot of work to do if he's going to be a factor in this offense, namely with his route-running skills. If Streeter's not one of the six best receivers when the preseason ends, the front office may be forced to cut him loose.

Mellette was taken in the seventh round of the 2013 draft, which was a bit of a surprise for the Elon product. He was projected as high as the fifth round but slipped into the Ravens' lap with the 238th overall pick. Like Streeter, there's a lot of upside to Mellette. He has a big frame at 6-3, 217 pounds and adjusts to passes well. He was a statistics machine in college, recording 4,254 yards and 44 touchdowns in four seasons. A strong camp from Mellette could force Baltimore to place him on the 53-man roster.

Brown's the most intriguing receiver in camp, considering he never lived up to the five-star billing he received as a high school senior at Harding Academy in Memphis, Tenn. During his senior season at Georgia, Brown notched three 100-yard games. However, after catching three passes for 113 yards against Mississippi on Nov. 3, 2012, Brown tore his ACL and was lost for the remainder of the season. At 6-5, 216 pounds, Brown is a big receiver and can play out wide and in the slot. Since he's still rehabbing the torn ACL, that could give Baltimore a reason to place him on IR and shelve him for further development.

Any sleepers?

Rashaad Carter (Tusculum), Marcus Rivers (Buffalo) and Omarius Hines (Florida) appear to be training camp bodies. Then again, the last undrafted rookie receiver from Florida to come through the Ravens' organization, Thompson, wound up making the 53-man roster.

But this year's sleeper appears to be Towson's Gerrard Sheppard. Sheppard was initially a roster casualty when Baltimore signed Brown. But the Ravens thought enough of him to bring him back on. He had a solid offseason, highlighted by catching a touchdown to close Baltimore's rookie minicamp.

Sheppard has some speed, indicated by his 4.45 40-yard dash time, which could be appealing to receivers coach Jim Hostler.

In conclusion

Options are always a good thing and it appears Baltimore has plenty of them. The coaching staff will have a long month to evaluate which receivers it wants to bring on to the 53-man roster. As it stands now, this could be the most difficult position group the coaches have to decide on.

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