More so than any other team in the league, the Ravens have become adept at finding diamonds in the rough and hidden gems in the undrafted free agent pool. Between Justin Tucker, Michael Pierce, Patrick Onwuasor, and most recently Gus Edwards, several of Baltimore’s key contributors were originally signed as UDFA’s.
For the past 15 seasons, at least one undrafted rookie has survived roster cuts and made the Ravens 53-man roster. It’s a fairly remarkable streak, one that highlights the team’s knack for finding and developing under-the-radar talent.
There’s always the possibility that this trend comes to an end. However, it seems likely that the streak continues in the 2019-20 season. The Ravens signed 17 undrafted free agents and there’s several positions lacking set-in-stone roster locks towards the bottom of the depth chart.
DT Gerald Willis (Miami) and WR Antoine Wesley (Texas Tech) headlined the Ravens UDFA haul, but there’s another receiver who may have the best chance of cracking the final roster: Jaylen Smith, who went undrafted after starting four years at Louisville.
Smith, 21, is coming off a relatively disappointing senior season in which he recorded just 550 receiving yards and one touchdown. However, his drop-off in production can be attributed, at least somewhat, to the departure of Lamar Jackson.
Jackson and Smith were teammates at Louisville in 2016 and 2017, Smith’s sophomore and junior seasons. The two developed into a dynamic QB-WR duo and formed a nice rapport. In these two seasons, Smith posted a combined 87 receptions, 1,579 yards, 13 touchdowns and a YPC average of 18.1.
Smith has the makings of an NFL-caliber receiver. He has good size at 6’2”, 219 pounds and ran a 4.47 40-yard dash time. He’s capable of lining up in different spots on the field, can beat defenders off the line of scrimmage and has solid route-running skills.
Concerns related to his motor, subpar performance in his senior season, and inconsistent hands are likely the cause of him slipping off team’s boards in the draft. Smith is far from a polished receiver, but his talent and relationship with Jackson are reasons to believe he may just be able to make the roster.
The Ravens are clearly committed to Jackson’s success and have made surrounding him with weapons a priority this offseason. They added Mark Ingram in free agency and drafted Justice Hill, Marquise Brown, and Miles Boykin, all four of which bring different skill sets and attributes to the offense.
With this in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens continue to tailor their offense towards Jackson by adding one of his favorite college targets and close friends. Smith and Jackson were seen working out together in Florida prior to the draft, so it’s not as though they suddenly lost their chemistry after a year or so removed from Louisville.
Louisville WR Jaylen Smith had a familiar face throwing to him during recent pre-draft workouts in Pompano Beach, Fla.: #Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, with whom Smith flourished in 2016-17, catching 13 TDs. Perhaps a reunion in Baltimore? pic.twitter.com/eyhMy8Qdhn— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 11, 2019
Obviously, simply having a good relationship with the starting quarterback isn’t enough to win a roster spot. Smith will have to earn his keep this summer and prove he can contribute at the pro level. The competition for the final receiver spot(s) will likely come down to Smith, Wesley, and returning second-year guys Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott.
Normally, the incumbent players would have a leg-up in a potential roster battle. However, neither Lasley or Scott took the field last season, so the playing field appears to be pretty leveled. The battle between these guys figures to be intense and will definitely be something to keep an eye on in the coming months.
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