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Is Kamar Aiken Baltimore's 'Next Big Thing'?

Fifth-year WR Kamar Aiken had bounced around from team-to-team before finding a home in Baltimore. Can he finally break through and be a starter?

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Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Last year, the Ravens picked up WR Kamar Aiken, who at the time appeared to be a wideout who just didn't have what it took to make it in the NFL. He had bounced around from team-to-team, and practice squad to practice squad, before finding a home in Baltimore. He signed a one-year contract this offseason, so it's make it or break it for him. Can he do it?

Kamar's Bad Luck

Kamar hasn't had the greatest luck ever. He committed to the University of Central Florida just two years after Brandon Marshall and Mike Sims-Walker came together for the most impressive season for wideout production in UCF history. The following season in 2006, Sims-Walker had a record 90 catch, 1,100+ yard season. Could Kamar be the next great UCF WR? The odds sure seemed in his favor, as he had the same athleticism both Marshall and Sims-Walker had. So in 2007, Aiken was second on the team in receiving, turning in an impressive freshman year with a statline of 33 receptions for 584 yards and five touchdowns. However, the passing attack was outshadowed by the run game, with RB Kevin Smith turning in over 2500 yards.

The next year, UCF absolutely sucked. The Golden Knights offense turned in a dismal 1,395 passing yards, and roughly 1,200 rushing yards. As a result, Kamar's numbers suffered, as he posted a statline of just 20 receptions for 244 yards, good for second on the team.

2009 was Kamar's best season, as he led the team in a 'offensive revival'. He finished the year with 36 passes for 610 yards with nine touchdowns, leading the team in receiving yards and TDs. That means a quarter of his receptions went for TDs, that's very good in my opnion.

The 2009 season was a successful one for the Golden Knights, as they notched their first win against a ranked opponent. Also, UCF’s passing production that year the best of any in Aiken’s tenure — throwing for a total of 2,739 yards.

In his final year there, Kamar's numbers suffered. He accrued just 32 passes for 486 yards and two touchdowns.

So what's the takeaway from all of this? UCF's offense was very inconsistent, and it's pretty clear that Kamar didn't get the best opportunities to perform. His stats weren't the best indicator of his abilities either.

As I said earlier, Kamar has bounced around the league quite a bit, and luck has not been on his side. Undrafted in 2011, Kamar was scooped up as a UDFA by the BIlls. He was then promptly released, resigned, promoted to the active roster, then released again. The Bears saw some potential and picked him up, only to cut him just a month later. Finally, the Patriots signed him, perhaps this was his team, after all, Brady had a way of making the unknowns great. But it wasn't mean to be, as the Patriots elevated, released, practice squaded, elevated, and released him again all in the span of less than a year. Things looked grim for Kamar's NFL career.

A Second Chance

Then Ozzie & Co. decided to throw him a lifeline in October 2013, signing him to the practice squad. Many thought he was just brought in as a camp body, but they were wrong. Kamar did enough to impress the front office that he made the 53-man roster.

Kamar had a pretty great year, considering expectations for him were very low. He was part of the WR3 rotation that consisted of Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, and Jacoby Jones. In limited time, Kamar shined, both on special teams, and on offense. As a gunner on special teams, he made quite a few key plays in a underrated position. In Week 10 versus the Titans, he caught a punt at the one-yard line, thus downing the Titans there. He always seems to be down the field, right where he needs to be to make the play. When the Ravens played the Saints, he had a key onside kick recovery in which he leaped into the air and came down with the football in traffic. He also got a Defensive TD when he picked up a block punt vs. the Jaguars and ran it into the end-zone.

On the offensive side of the ball, Kamar excelled as a WR3, arguably having the best year of all the guys in that rotation. (Jones, Campanaro, Brown) He hauled in 3 TDs, proving to be an excellent red-zone receiver on limited targets. He developed a raport with Joe Flacco late in the season, as two of his TDs came in weeks 13 and 16, versus the Dolphins and Browns. Kamar also hauled in a key TD in the AFC Divisional Game against the Patriots. Check out his stats.

As for some other revealing stats:

  • Kamar played on 15.2% of offensive snaps, that means he's ranked #174 of all NFL WRs for snaps.
  • He got 33 targets on the year, or 2.5 per game. Kamar received 7.2% of all team receiving targets last year.
  • He was obviously a popular red-zone target, as 10.9% (or seven) of team red-zone targets went to him.
Now, let's take a look at the tape.

The Tape

After doing some research, I've managed to come up with clips of each Kamar TD and highlight this season.

First, here's his key onside kick recovery. Look at that athleticism, and the sure hands to hold on to the ball.

Here he is vs. the Jaguars, being alert and picking up the blocked punt for an easy TD.

This was Kamar's first NFL TD. Week 6 vs. the Bucs, the infamous game in which Flacco threw for five TDs in just the first half. As you can see, Kamar has excellent slot speed and an ability to catch in traffic. He takes advantage of zone coverage and a match up against a LB, and catches a beauty right up the seam.

More of the same stuff here. A great route up the seam in the red zone. This time, Kamar displays excellent footwork to keep his feet in bounds and make the catch. In addition, the ball was off the mark from Flacco, so he had to contort his body to make the catch.

Now this was Kamar's biggest play of the year, a 19-yard TD to put the Ravens on the board in the AFC Divisional Game. This time instead of vertical speed, he shows off his horizontal speed to brake away from the CB.

Kamar Aiken Runs Perfect Route For Score

This was simple stick route to the right. Flacco and Kamar displayed excellent chemistry and timing, as Kamar was right where he was supposed to be.

Now since Kamar has little NFL tape, we can also look at some college highlights.

In this play, he displays great awareness and body control to make a circus catch on a bad throw.

Here, he once again shows off his vertical speed up the slot. He makes a great catch in stride, and holds on to the ball despite pressure from the DB.

More of the same stuff here.

Once again, beautiful deep route and catch.

The Case for Kamar

The one thing that sticks out about Kamar is some of his intangibles, and in particular some of his pro day results. While he wasn't invited to the combine, Kamar's Pro Day was attended by representatives of all 32 NFL teams. His numbers were quite good, and better than expected. His broad jump of 128 inches would've been third of all 2011 combine WRs, beating out names like Torrey Smith and A.J. GreenHis 40-yard time of 4.45 is one tenth of a second faster than Michael Campanaro’s, and would've ranked him tied for seventh at the 2011 combine.

Rivals.com's scouting report of Kamar says "Looks every bit the part with a rocked-up, shredded physique (broke Brandon Marshall's strength records). Good body control. Plays big - attacks the ball and works the middle of the field. Exceptional leaping ability. Strong on contact and can rip through tackles. Physical blocker."

It's pretty easy to see how he broke Marshall's records. I mean, just look at those muscles.

Quite a few have said he looks a lot like Anquan Boldin too, I'd have to agree.

I'd definitely have to agree with Rivals scouting report, particularly this part: "Good body control. Plays big - attacks the ball and works the middle of the field. Exceptional leaping ability." Kamar has demonstrated each of these abilities in his very short NFL playing time. Just look at the tape.

As for his weaknesses, Rivals had this to say: "Has small, inconsistent hands. Builds to pedestrian speed and does not show a second gear. Not a polished route runner. Is tight in the hips and struggles to transition in and out of breaks smoothly. Not quick or sudden to separate. Most catches are contested. Lets some throws into his body. Can't create after the catch. Has been slowed by injuries, and production is just average. Could play with more urgency."

It looks like Kamar has definitely cleaned up his game since college, when this report was released. In his limited playing time, I haven't seen any evidence of poor route running. He also only had one drop last year, for a 3.1% drop percentage. As for lack of speed, Kyle Ottenheimer of Cover 32 had this to say:

"this is in stark contrast to what was seen at the Ravens open practice at M&T Bank Stadium.  Before even knowing who Kamar Aiken was, what was evident was that #11 — whoever he was — was an absolute terror to stop off the line.  He would jet past defenders, and seemed to both have the first step and strength the gain position on the man lined up across from him."

OC Gary Kubiak also called Kamar "explosive".

The jury may still be out on Kamar, but in his limited time, he's done nothing but dispel his 'weaknesses' and show that his 'strengths' were indeed there.

It should also be noted that Kamar was a Top-100 basketball, (as well as football) prospect out of high school. Perhaps his basketball background is why he's so athletic. Kamar has that big frame and big arms that are so coveted in football. Just look at that frame.

His athleticism hasn't gone unnoticed either, as Player Profiler gives him an Athleticism Score of 104.9, or the 82nd percentile. To put that in perspective, a 105.0 is considered excellent for a WR.

The same service, Player Profiler, says that Kamar's best comparable NFL peer is former-Raven Jacoby Jones. And that seems shockingly accurate, Kamar eerily reminds me of Jacoby, but with better hands. Jacoby was a really good slot guy, and deep receiver too. So is Kamar.

I think the main reason Kamar has stayed around so long in the league is because of his work ethic. During his time with the Bills, Stevie Johnson seemed to have rubbed off on him. Stevie, who notably went from 7th round flier to WR1, got there by taking advantage of opportunities given to him. Kamar seems to be trying to do the same.

"My thing was to always be prepared because you never know when they are going to call your name. That's one thing I took from being there -- take every week like you're going to play that week. Stevie [Johnson], the way he practices, he really goes at it. He's a competitor and wants to win every time, and I took that away from him." - Kamar Aiken

Now the question is, can Kamar take advantage of the best opportunity he's ever had?

Can Kamar Make the Cut?

As I said earlier, this year is make it or break it for him. It's a contract year. With names like Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Darren Waller, and DeAndre Carter chomping at the bit, he knows that he's replaceable. The good news is I forsee him taking the WR3 role for good this year. Last year, the Ravens used Kamar the most in the WR3 rotation, then Campanaro and Brown after. I anticipate Kamar's versatility as the main reason he gets the job. He can play both inside and outside the numbers, and isn't a one trick pony. Baltimore Sports and Life did a good job breaking down just how versatile he is.

(image credit Baltimore Sports and Life)

(image credit Baltimore Sports and Life)

On the outside, Kamar isn't necessarily going to speed off down the sideline, that's more of a Perriman role. But he can run underneath coverage and catch those jump balls, especially over the middle. He demonstrated this with his over the middle TD catches in Miami and Tampa.

(image credit Baltimore Sports and Life)

(image credit Baltimore Sports and Life)

Now on the inside, his specialty is the stick route, which he ran to perfection to get those TDs in Cleveland and New England. He can do it all, posts, hitches, fades, etc. His versatility is why he's my favorite to be the WR3 alongside Perriman and Smith Sr. this year. This WR corps will be criminally underrated, but one of the best Baltimore has had in years.

So look for #11 to tear it up this year! Might want to start stocking up on his jerseys soon too.