We called it way back before training camp, but Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken looks like he might be the next big thing for this team. After how he's played this season with little to no talent around him, it's hard to argue against that.
Since the week 8 game against the San Diego Chargers, where Steve Smith Sr. would tear his Achilles tendon and go on injured reserve, Aiken has 531 yards on 43 receptions. That means the Ravens have been able to count on about 6 catches for 76 yards out of their top receiver in each game. For the season, he has 802 yards on 62 receptions, giving him a real chance at 1,000 yards this season if he can put up similar games in the final two weeks.
Long-time Ravens fans will know that the team has had it's issues with drafting wide receivers and have done far better picking up aging veterans like Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith Sr., and Derrick Mason. In fact, the only receiver to play as expected was Torrey Smith, drafted out of the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and being a glorified pass interference flag. With Kamar Aiken playing like he has with little talent around him, the Ravens might have a guy they can count on in the future to be a major play maker.
Even Pro Football Focus would grade Aiken positively, putting him 22nd overall in the league. That's in front of players like Michael Floyd, Vincent Jackson, Golden Tate, Stefon Diggs, Anquan Boldin, and Mike Evans. Those are all players that many fans wish they had instead of Aiken when the season began. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, the Ravens have a guy that has been able to make the tough catches at all levels of the field this season, but would do even better as a chain mover with a deep threat opposite him to draw safeties away from him. Basically a faster Anquan Boldin in his prime for a comparison Ravens fans will be excited to hear.
The issue with Aiken this season has just been consistency. Some of that can be expected with the alterations on the offense through injuries and the quarterback play. Yet, true top level receivers can fight through some of that and be the guy that can be counted on. After the bye week, Aiken has continuously stepped up his game and has "stacked games" as John Harbaugh loves to say. By doing that, he looks to earn himself a more permanent role in this offense next season and beyond.
It will be interesting what the Ravens decide to do this offseason with Aiken.
He is set to be on a restricted free agent deal. With how Aiken has been playing this season, a lot of teams would seriously think about him if he was on a second-round tender as wide receivers are hard to draft and groom. While a RFA deal gives the Ravens the chance to match any offer sheet sent to their player, a second round tender in 2015 cost teams $2.356 million. Talking to Jason from OverTheCap, the expected tender for 2016 is $2.516 million. It's something the Ravens wouldn't want to pay only to have to potentially pay more the following year or lose him to free agency.
Aiken could warrant a long-term deal that is more cap friendly up front and gives the team a chance to cut bait from him if he pulls what fellow wide receiver Marlon Brown has done since his famous rookie season. We won't be able to talk numbers with any certainty until the season comes to a close and we can see what other free agents will be pulling down.
If the Ravens are smart though, they'll make the move fast and get him under contract to play his prime through Joe Flacco's prime. If they do, they might have a top wide receiver for once.