The impressive performance of rookie wide receiver Deonte Thompson during training camp has raised questions about how the Ravens will handle roster decisions at what’s considered to be a deep position.
The top of the depth chart is essentially set with starters Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith and veteran Jacoby Jones locked into the No. 3 spot, but the questions begin after that. Second-year wideout LaQuan Williams appears to have a strong hold on the No. 4 overall spot on the depth chart after an impressive camp while 2011 fourth-round pick Tandon Doss has dealt with a hamstring injury.
Despite being sidelined for much of the summer, Doss’ pedigree and offseason work suggest he’s still a safe bet to make the 53-man roster, pushing the Ravens’ total to five receivers before you consider the surprising Thompson or 2012 sixth-round draft choice Tommy Streeter. Thompson has performed at a higher level overall with his exceptional speed and better-than-advertised hands in practices, but Streeter’s 6-foot-5 height and straight-line speed make him the player with the higher upside despite his limited route-running ability and inconsistent hands.
However, the question of whether the Ravens can keep six — or even seven — receivers involves much more than the passing tree and reining in passes from quarterback Joe Flacco. Many will try to project a number of players at each position that are ultimately kept on the 53-man roster, but those decisions are determined by versatility and what type of contributions players can make on special teams. In that sense, a wide receiver is suddenly viewed as an all-around football player and not an individual with a specific skill set at a given position.
“The best players will be kept on the roster,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. “And you may be heavy at a position, but I know John [Harbaugh] believes that, and Ozzie [Newsome] believes that we are going to keep our best players, and if you have a bunch of receivers that are your best players, that will dictate that. If you have receivers that aren’t, than you probably will not have a lot. I’m confident that we have a really good group of receivers on this offense. How many? We are probably going to have more than maybe we can keep, so we’ll see.”
Thompson may gain the edge over Streeter when it comes to his ability on special teams where he’s working in a number of areas. Though only listed as the fourth kick returner on the team’s most recent depth chart, Thompson has also worked as a gunner on the punt team and is learning multiple jobs on the special teams units.
It can only help his cause when the Ravens trim their roster to 53 on Aug. 31 for the regular season.
“He’s working at a variety of different positions,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He’s one of those guys that we like to cross-train, and we have this expression: ‘The more you can do.’ So, for example, on kickoff coverage, he’s worked as an inside player, he’s worked as an outside player. And on punt return team, we’ve had him work at the end where he’s rushing punts. We’ve had him work at the vice, where he’s holding up gunners. And so, he’s got enough skill where he can play a variety of positions, so we’re trying to expose him to all those different opportunities.
“Depending on how the roster all works out, and depending on where the opening is, we can insert him there and see what he can do. So yes, his speed and his agility – and he’s a football player – you watch him play offense and you can see that, because he has the ability to get open. He’s got good hands, he’s got good spatial awareness and a football sense, and it shows up in special teams as well.”
Even if Thompson or Streeter — or neither — find their way onto the 53-man roster, both would be ideal candidates for the eight-man practice squad.
Whether they’d make it that far before being snatched up by any of the other 31 NFL teams, however, remains in doubt.