It’s really no surprise that all the anticipation for the Baltimore Ravens preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers was for Joe Flacco and his newest receiver additions of Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth. But it wasn’t Boldin or Stallworth that hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Flacco early in the second quarter — it was Mark Clayton, the forgotten wide out.
Clayton was the Ravens’ 2005 first round pick, being selected at number 22 overall. He was a star wide receiver at Oklahoma during his time there and was former Heisman Trophy winner Jason White’s favorite target. As a junior at OU, Clayton caught 85 balls for 1,425 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was honored with a spot on the All-America and All-Big XII teams in both his junior and senior year and set an Oklahoma record with 3,241 career receiving yards.
His NFL career, however, has been less than stellar. His best season was in 2006 when he had 67 receptions for 939 yards and five touchdown grabs. Clayton’s next closest 1,000-yard season was in 2008 when he had 695 yards on 41 receptions. The worst moment of Clayton’s soon-to-be six year career came last season against the Patriots when he bobbled and dropped a well-thrown pass on fourth down against the Patriots.
Clayton has made some special plays for the Ravens over the years but they’ve been scarce. He hasn’t filled out to be the big-play receiver, racking up yards after catch, like he did in college. But in Thursday’s game, Clayton helped produce the only Flacco touchdown by going up and getting the 30-yard strike. He even tried his hand in the punt return game, returning one punt for 12 yards.
Maybe the offseason was a wake-up call for the sixth-year player. The acquisitions of Boldin and Stallworth, drafting tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta and wide receiver David Wright in the draft may have lit a much needed spark under Clayton’s girdle.
He may have a leg up in the third receiver race, albeit, Stallworth isn’t too far behind. Clayton may shine at the slot guy in more of a Wes Welker role and have breakout season. His first audition with the new additions was solid. Clayton’s inconsistancy over the years makes it hard to predict how he’ll do Saturday against the Redskins.
But one thing is certain: if Clayton has another great showing, the wide receiver race in Baltimore will surely heat up and will be one more storyline to watch in Charm City this preseason.