The Ravens waited until the seventh round to draft Elon wide receiver Aaron Mellette on Saturday evening.
But the wait felt much, much longer to Mellette, who some analysts believed would come off the board earlier in the draft’s final day. Soon after the Ravens called his name, though, Mellette was already thinking about what he will need to do to make the jump from the small-school Phoenix to the Super Bowl champion Ravens.
“I’ve just got to come in and learn the playbook and figure out new ways to get open because what we did in college is more than likely not going to work in the NFL,” Mellette said Saturday evening on a conference call.
Mellette is the first small-school wide receiver the Ravens have drafted since Northern Arizona's Clarence Moore in 2004. They have instead preferred to pluck wide receivers from established BCS programs like Oklahoma, Oregon, Maryland, and Miami.
Mellette caught 97 passes for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2012, but even after a strong showing during Senior Bowl practices in January, he was still a relative unknown outside the scouting community. He continued to raise his profile by standing out in spandex at the combine, running a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash and landing as a top-10 performer among receivers in the broad jump.
The 6-foot-2, 217-pounder certainly got the Ravens’ attention.
“He is a big athlete,” college scouting director Joe Hortiz said. “He is kind of a subtle route runner. You don’t realize he is as fast as he is when you watch him on film. He is really smooth. He has quick feet after the catch and at the top of his routes. He catches the ball well. ... He has played against a lot of stepped-up competition.”
For Mellette, who turns 24 in December, the results were mixed.
Against FCS powerhouse Appalachian State in October, Mellette had 13 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns. As a junior, he had 14 catches for 236 yards and a touchdown against them.
In 2011, Mellette also had a big game in a loss against Vanderbilt, a SEC team, with 11 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown.
But against North Carolina in the 2012 season opener, he had just two catches for nine yards and dropped a couple of passes.
He had no catches as a freshman against Wake Forest in 2009 and just two for 30 yards against Duke in his sophomore year.
Still, Hortiz said that “big competition doesn’t bother him.”
It will be a big leap to the NFL for Mellette, who has an intriguing combination of speed and size, but Pro Bowl receivers such as Marques Colston and Victor Cruz have made the same leap.
He projects as a possession receiver, something the Ravens are lacking now that Anquan Boldin is out on the West Coast. At Elon, he took advantage of cornerbacks who gave him a large cushion, was able to shake free of press coverage, make contested catches on the sideline due to his good body control, and was tough to bring down after the catch because of his size and strength.
"I can do a little bit of everything," said Mellette, who caught 304 passes in his four years at Elon. "I can beat people deep, go across the middle, break tackles, go up and get the ball. I’m just a versatile guy. That’s how I look at myself.”
I don't know if he does or ever did, but Mellette should no longer look at himself as a small-school wide receiver. Once he lands in Baltimore for this weekend’s rookie minicamp, where Mellette played his college ball will be insignficant. From here on out, it will only be about getting open so he can keep the Ravens’ attention.