Going into this week, the Baltimore Ravens’ receiving corps was deep in terms of personnel but on the shallow side talent-wise and very banged-up.
Primary target Derrick Mason, fresh off a superb 1,000-yard season, recently underwent surgery to repair his injured right shoulder and could be sidelined until Week 1.
Mason’s counterpart, five-year veteran Mark Clayton, has been limited in practice with an unspecified injury, and slot receiver Demetrius Williams is just beginning his return from the ankle surgery which kept him on the injured reserve list last season.
Behind those three, not one of the other eight wide-outs on the roster has more than two career NFL receptions.
Despite the confidence in the current receiving corps expressed by GM Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens asked three veteran receivers to participate in the three-day mini-camp held this past weekend, including the ex-Jaguar Jerry Porter, ex-Bengal Tab Perry, and former Patriot Kelley Washington.
Harbaugh expressed interest in signing at least one of the three.
Here’s a breakdown of the competition for that one roster spot:
To start, let’s eliminate Jerry Porter from the competition.
Is that a quick judgment? Yes, but it’s not altogether undeserved. Unless Porter shows flashes of the skills he had when he caught 14 touchdowns between 2004 and 2005, he won’t be tapped.
Porter played only sparingly last season with the Jags (11 catches) and he isn’t a good special teams player, which is an automatic deduction in Harbaugh’s eyes, a former special teams coach himself.
Now let’s compare Perry and Washington. Though both are good special teamers, Perry has the clear advantage, having set a Bengals single-season record for return yards.
Washington is more involved as a gunner on punts and kickoffs, and he has shown the ability to make plays.
Nonetheless, with Yamon Figurs struggling on returns this past season and the departure of Jim Leonhard, Perry gets the nod for being more suited to the Ravens’ needs in that category.
In comparing the receiving stats of Washington and Perry, it’s clear that although both have been in the NFL long enough to have established themselves as guys who know the game, neither one has caught many balls.
Washington has a career total of 73 catches for 896 yards and nine touchdowns, but he hasn’t caught more than 10 passes in a season since 2004.
Seen side-by-side with Washington, however, Perry pales in comparison. Despite his prowess in the return game, Perry has yet to catch more than 10 passes in any season in his short career.
So, what’s the conclusion? For me, the return game is very important, but it takes a back seat to the offense with all the injuries to the guys that actually play every possession.
Washington has shown he is capable of contributing to the offense, but he’s also ready, willing, and able to play special teams whenever necessary, and that’s a quality that should endear him somewhat to Harbaugh.
Also, Washington was rumored to have had a better tryout this weekend than Perry, so that helps his stock.
Moving forward, I see the Ravens doing one of two things; signing Washington or working with the current squad.
Ozzie Newsome is not known for signing a player just to fill a need if the player is not high quality to begin with, so I don’t think he’ll settle for anything less than someone guaranteed to contribute. Washington certainly fits that mold.
If none of the trio have done enough to improve their stock significantly through their tryouts this weekend, I wouldn’t rule out the Ravens pursuing another handful of available receivers, including Plaxico Burress (if he stays out of jail).
But that’s still a long way off. Let’s see if any of these three get signed. If we have to pick one, I’m pulling for Washington.