During free-agent visits, Kamar Aiken was all about finding a team that would allow him the opportunity to grow as a player, something the new Colts receiver believes he’ll get in Indianapolis.
That opportunity, according to Aiken, was something missing during his three-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens.
While Aiken enjoyed a breakout season in 2015 – 75 receptions, 944 yards and five TDs, all team highs – that largely was a result of injuries decimating the receiving corps. First-round draft pick Breshad Perriman missed his rookie season after suffering a knee injury on the first day of training camp, then veteran Steve Smith Sr. tore his Achilles in late October.
“They didn’t really have anybody to turn to,” Aiken said, who joined the Colts this week with a one-year contract. “Even though I had been doing everything I had to do up until that point, I was kind of like the next man in line.
“I just saw it as an opportunity and I told myself week-in and week-out that you never know when you’re going to get this opportunity again, so make the best of it.”
He did precisely that, including setting a Ravens record with nine straight games with at least five receptions.
Despite the breakout season, Aiken found himself on the bottom end of the depth chart in 2016 as Smith and Perriman returned and Mike Wallace joined the group as a free agent. He was targeted 50 times, fifth-highest on the team, but his 29 receptions ranked fourth among receivers and eighth among Ravens.
“It was definitely frustrating because I felt like I did enough to at least have the opportunity to build off of what I did the year before,” Aiken said. “But I really didn’t have that. My role was dropped back on the depth chart and then basically special teams.
“There was nothing that I was doing to say, ‘Well, he’s not doing this well. He’s not doing that well.’ That’s just what it was. I just got in there week one and the next thing you know I look at the depth chart and now I’m back (down) the depth chart.”
Aiken said that a big reason for joining the Colts was to catch passes from quarterback Andrew Luck. In Indy he should get more playing time, too. His size – 6-2, 215 pounds – makes Aiken a serious red-zone threat and adds a physical presence to a receiver group that includes T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett and Chester Rogers.
I just feel like this opportunity is a little different than the other ones I’ve had,” Aiken said. “Like when I came into Baltimore, I came in as a practice squad guy so I kind of earned my ranks to get to be able to be active and get plays my way. Now, I am coming into a situation where I have kind of proved myself, not to the tier where I know I can be, but I’ve proven myself enough to where I can come in and compete for a job.”
Hilton is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and one of three Colts – Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are the others – to post four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Moncrief has 13 touchdown catches in his last 25 games and has shown signs of being a legitimate sidekick to Hilton, but a fractured scapula limited him to nine games last season. The team still is waiting for Dorsett, its 2015 first-round pick, to emerge.
Along with the opportunity to play pitch-and-catch with Luck, Aiken’s interested sharpened when general manager Chris Ballard insisted he would have the opportunity to compete for serious playing time.
“With Chris, we had a good talk,” he said. “I was told there is going to be open competition basically in our receiver room, which is better for the whole receiver room, and then I would still have my special teams role as well.
“I’ve never had (open competition) in my career since I’ve been in the league, to be honest. A lot of times teams will tell you, ‘Yeah, it’s competition,’ and it really isn’t competition. I believe what Chris said it’s going to be a competition and the best guys will play. I think that’s good for the whole room in general. It’s going to bring everybody’s play up.”
Aiken will get a chance to face his former team, when Colts play the Ravens in Baltimore this upcoming season.