Thompson Or Mellette To Make Roster?
The 2014 Ravens may boast their deepest wide receiver corps in team history, which will make for an intense offseason competition for some of the younger players on the bubble.
Barring injury, the top four receivers are set: Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Sr., Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown. Baltimore is also expected to draft a wide receiver, which would take up five roster spots, and the Ravens have generally kept five to seven in the past.
That would seemingly leave one spot for Deonte Thompson, Aaron Mellette, Kamar Aiken and Gerrard Sheppard, with the first two considered the favorites for the job.
Inquiring minds want to know which receiver is more likely to be a Raven in 2014: Mellette or Thompson?
"I would go with Mellette, although both are on the bubble as the offseason workouts begin," ESPN's Jamison Hensley recently wrote in a fan chat. "Thompson didn't impress the coaches with his ability to fight for passes. His off-the-field incident didn't help him either. Thompson has potential as a returner, but the Ravens are committed to Jacoby Jones. Mellette showed enough promise during the preseason to give him the edge."
Florida prosecutors recently dropped felony and misdemeanor drug charges against Thompson, but Hensley still believes Thompson has an uphill battle in convincing Ravens brass he deserves a spot on the team.
After making the squad as an undrafted free agent out of Florida in 2012, Thompson has shined in offseason activities and in training camp, but his development hasn't translated to the regular season yet. He had a shot at the No. 3 wide receiver spot last year, but injured his foot in the preseason opener.
Thompson missed the first three games of the season, and was active for the next seven, notching 10 receptions for 96 yards and no touchdowns. He was inactive for the final six games.
Meanwhile, Aaron Mellette shined in the four preseason games. In limited action, he was able to nab nine balls for 140 yards and two touchdowns. In his only start in the fourth and final preseason matchup against the St. Louis Rams, Mellette hauled in five catches for 70 yards.
He later hurt his knee and was placed on injured reserve for the season, but is now primed for a return to battle Thompson and the others for a coveted spot.
"The Ravens have kept Thompson around because of his potential, but the time to prove his value could be about up," Hensley wrote. "His lack of ball skills has offset his speed and ability to separate. He doesn't aggressively compete for passes when the ball is in the air.
"If Thompson fails to make this year's team, he'll regret not taking advantage of his window of opportunity last year."
Ravens Closed Gap In AFC North
For the first time since 2010, the Ravens didn't win the AFC North division crown last season. They instead finished third after an 8-8 season.
Looking at the totality of AFC North offseason moves heading into the draft, The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston believes the Ravens have closed the gap in the division, with one caveat.
"On paper, the Ravens have picked up significant ground on the rest of the AFC North. They retained most of their key players in free agency and upgraded in other areas," Preston wrote. "But because they've added so many new faces, it could be a month into the regular season before the improvement is evident on the field."
Below is a table of all four division teams' key offseason moves.
"While the Ravens didn't make any big free-agent splashes, neither did any of the other AFC North teams except the Cleveland Browns," Preston wrote. "But the Browns are the Browns, and they are so far down that it will take at least another season for them to catch up with the rest of the division.
He added: "As usual, the Cincinnati Bengals, the defending AFC North champs, maintained the status quo in free agency. … Pittsburgh has gotten better, but not to the point where anyone is ready to make them favorites in the AFC North."
So where does that leave us? Who is the favorite to win the division?
"One month into the new league year, the AFC North is the sole division in the conference with no clear-cut favorite," wrote NFL.com's Chris Wesseling.
Taylor Training With Garcia Should Please Ravens
The Ravens are looking for competition against Tyrod Taylor for the backup position at quarterback, and some believe it may already be providing a little extra motivation for the fourth-year veteran.
Taylor said all the right things when asked about fresh blood potentially coming in, but The Sun's Jeff Zrebiec believes Taylor's actions are speaking louder than his words after he started training with retired Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia.
And Zrebiec believes Taylor's decision to do so "has to please team officials."
"I don't know whether the two have worked together in the past, but Garcia, who made plays with both his arm and his legs in a 12-year NFL career, would be a great mentor for Taylor. Flacco's three-year backup may be the most athletic player on the team, but Taylor obviously hasn't shown in limited game opportunities – and in practice – the ability to consistently do the other things that the position requires," wrote Zrebiec.
"Garcia should help him in those areas. Remember, Taylor won't be just trying to win the backup quarterback job in training camp. He'll be trying to show other teams entering his final season before free agency that he's more than just a backup."
RB Terrance West Among Many At Ravens Local Prospect Day
Towson running back Terrance West was among many NFL draft hopefuls who attended the Ravens' local prospect day, and even took a pic with Torrey Smith while at the Under Armour Performance Center.
"Everyone follow @terrancewest28 he's up next!" Smith posted on Instagram.
"Had a great workout today with the RAVENS," West tweeted Monday afternoon.
The Ravens would like to add depth to their running back corps behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Many analysts have predicted the Ravens doing so in the third round or later. West is projected as a third-round selection.
NFL rules allow teams to conduct a workout with local prospects, which doesn't count against the 30 official visits the team is allotted.
After the workout, Head Coach John Harbaugh sent a text to West, telling him the team intends to keep in touch, according to The Sun's Aaron Wilson.
"It was amazing, I felt like I was home and that I was wanted," West told Wilson. "Everybody already knew who I was when I got there and was excited to meet me. It felt pretty good, like a dream come true."
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