When Jacoby Jones was brought on to the Ravens roster in May 2012, he immediately became a contributor in the return game. Jones was the main return guy for the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 and 2013, being remembered most for his 108 yard kickoff return in the Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
After having a less-than-productive season in 2014 (mostly as a receiver)), where he caught 9 passes on 18 targets and no touchdowns, the Ravens decided to sever ties with Jones. This left a hole in the return game, and the Ravens opted not to go out and use the draft or free agency to fill the void.
The competition thus far has been has been very open, with as many as seven players trying their hand at it last Friday. The Ravens' special teams have been among the league's best since special teams coach Jerry Rosburg joined in 2008, and have found success with a variety of returners such as David Reed and Tandon Doss.
Rosburg said that at this point it is about finding a returner that fits the system, not fitting the system to the returner. He said,
"We don't want to fit it to our returner, because we don't know who our returner is going to be."
Rosburg said he wants to give "everybody an opportunity" and hinted that there will be several different players given the chance to prove themselves in the preseason.
Here at Baltimore Beatdown, we have previewed the offensive depth chart, as well as the defensive depth chart. One look at the special teams depth chart shows that the Ravens Public Relations staff has listed three guys on the depth chart for kick and punt returns: Michael Campanaro, Asa Jackson, and DeAndre Carter.
These three have long been thought to be front-runners in the competition, as they are not highly-ranked on the depth chart at their primary positions and possess the speed and agility needed to excel as a returner.
Campanaro was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 with the expectation of being a slot receiver in the mold of Wes Welker, while also being a special teams contributor. So far, he has struggled with health, but when he has been healthy, he has shown the ability to be a major factor in the return game.
Jackson is a former 5th round pick out of Cal Poly where he returned punts and kicks. While he has not yet had any return experience in the regular season or playoffs, he averaged nearly 26 yards per kick return his final year at Cal Poly, while also faring well in punt returns.
Carter, in my opinion, is the wild card in this race. He's an undrafted rookie out of Sacramento State, despite being arguably the most prolific receiver in FCS last season. Carter rarely served as a kick returner in college, but returned a punt for a touchdown in his final season. He's listed as third on the special teams depth chart, but don't be surprised to see Carter rise through the ranks during the pre-season.
I believe that any of these three players will perform well as a returner for the Ravens. With Rosburg and Harbaugh's attention to special teams, the unit is consistently one of the best in the league and fans should look forward to the same in 2015.