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As soon as the Baltimore Ravens traded Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers this offseason, there were concerns about how effective their offense could be without the veteran. His departure was a necessary move by General Manager Ozzie Newsome, who was keen to create salary cap space, and reinvigorate Baltimore’s vaunted defense, which had been uncharacteristically average the previous season. With few affordable targets in free agency, and a desire to improve the spine of their defense with their higher draft picks, the responsibility of replacing Boldin seemed to fall on a group of young receivers already playing for the Ravens, but few saw an undrafted rookie free agent coming in and putting in a strong claim to make the job his own, and that’s exactly what Marlon Brown has done.
There have been few concerns over third-year receiver Torrey Smith stepping up to be the number one receiver on the team, but who would line up opposite him and who would take the role of slot receiver has been highly scrutinized. Jacoby Jones, despite issues with his consistency previously as a number two receiver with the Houston Texans, is widely regarded as the favorite to make the number two position his own, but there has been a lot less certainty over who is capable of taking on the third receiver position. The organization was believed to hold Tandon Doss in high regard, but the third-year player has struggled in preseason so far, and could have already missed his opportunity, whilst other contenders such as LaQuan Williams and Tommy Streeter are long shots. The arrival of Brandon Stokely has shaken things up somewhat, with the veteran an enticing option for the job for the upcoming season, but his place is certainly not guaranteed, and at least leaves seventh-round draft pick Aaron Mellette and Brown as the potential frontrunners for the job in the long-term.
Mellette may have two touchdowns so far in preseason, but after being called ‘lazy’ in one of his practices by Head Coach John Harbaugh, could find himself behind Brown in the pecking order, who has reportedly impressed the coaches tremendously during the Ravens’ training camp. Much of the buzz surrounding Brown, as not only a guy with a chance of making the roster, but as one who can contribute significantly on offense, has come as a result of a four catch, 59-yard performance against the Carolina Panthers, which included a touchdown. Although preseason performances should always be treated with skepticism, the chemistry he showed with quarterback Joe Flacco was impressive, as was his separation from defenders, and his ability to go up and make catches in traffic. Thus far, Flacco has been unable to create that kind of chemistry with the likes of Doss or Williams.
Brown has the size to make himself an invaluable red zone target for Flacco, something which is all the more vital given the season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta, and could be an area the Ravens struggle in this season, with their two most often targeted receivers from last season either injured or traded. At 6”5 and 205 pounds, the former Georgia wide receiver has all the physical prerequisites to make this position his own, and has shown good hands and route running ability in his opportunities so far. There are concerns over Brown however, including his lack of production early on at Georgia, and an anterior cruciate ligament tear in November, which curtailed what was looking like a very productive season for Brown, and consequently ended his chances of being drafted. In the 2012 NFL Draft, Baltimore grabbed the 6”5 Streeter with their sixth-round selection, with the idea of grooming him into a starting receiver, but it already looks as if the Ravens believe Brown has more to offer than Streeter, with the former Miami man seeing much less playing time this preseason than Brown.
With just the fourth and final preseason game left to play, where starters tend to play little to no part in, Brown will likely see plenty of snaps, as will Doss, Mellete and Williams, as the Ravens continue to search for the best option ahead of their preseason opener in Denver. A strong performance against the St Louis Rams in that game should all but cement Brown’s place on the 53-man roster, and could well catapult himself into contention for regular playing time.
Photo Courtesy of Baltimore Ravens