For many NFL players it would be a slap in the face to be overlooked after having the season Kamar Aiken did last year, putting up nearly 1,000 receiving yards and 75 catches.
“I’m not working hard enough,” Aiken said. “I probably have to do a little more.”
Much of the buzz surrounding Ravens training camp has centered on when Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman are going to come back – and with good reason. They’re two key players.
Meanwhile, just as he did last year when Smith and Perriman were injured, Aiken has gone about his business of being the Ravens’ most impressive wide receiver on the field.
Aiken became a starter, and the team’s top target, last season. Now he’s looking to keep a stranglehold on it when everyone’s healthy.
“That is my mindset,” Aiken said. “I’m going to approach it every day as that – as me being a starter – and take it day-by-day.”
Aiken’s backstory is well-known at this point. When he was signed to the Ravens practice squad in 2013, it marked the 16th transaction he was a part of and fourth team in two years. Two years ago in training camp, he was profiled in a story headlined, “Life On The Bubble.”
Aiken signed a second-round tender this offseason, which came as a sign of big-time respect by the Ravens, not to mention a healthy pay raise.
But Aiken has never forgotten where he’s come from, and he still plays like that undrafted free agent out of Central Florida.
“If you look at where I’ve come from, it has been a steady progress,” Aiken said. “I don’t listen to too much noise, or anything else that is going on outside. I definitely have a chip [on my shoulder]. I’m going to have a chip every year, whether it is this year or next year.”
Aiken says he’s always playing for next year.
“You are playing for another contract, another year to be able to play this game,” he said.
The way Aiken has played, he could be a candidate for a long-term stay in Baltimore if the price is right for both sides. With Smith entering his final season, the Ravens will have a need for a tough chain-mover on the outside to complement the speed of Mike Wallace and Perriman.
Last year, Aiken didn’t make a ton of deep catches (outside of his Hail Mary touchdown against the Chiefs), but he was as steady as they come. He finished the season with nine consecutive five-catch games, the longest such streak in franchise history and the third-longest active streak in the NFL.
Aiken doesn’t do it with blazing speed. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he doesn’t create mismatches because of his size. Head Coach John Harbaugh attempted to explain just how Aiken has become so good.
“He’s a guy that gets the most out of every ounce of his ability, and that’s not to take away and say he’s not talented because he is talented,” Harbaugh said.
“His gifts are strength, and then he’s got all of the intangible gifts of toughness – toughness is a talent. Persistence is a talent. Overcoming adversity is a talent. This guy plays strong to the ball. He runs great routes, he’s a great blocker, and just has made himself into a really good football player.”
While some fans or national media may overlook Aiken, opponents likely won’t after last season’s production. Aiken said he doubts he took them by surprise last year. After all, they’re watching the film each week and Aiken made a lot of plays on it.
But Aiken conceded that he still could see more attention this season.
“It probably will be a little different this year because I have more tape out there,” Aiken said. “But I’m looking forward to it. I take all the challenges.”