As each round of the NFL draft passed in late April, Texas Tech’s Antoine Wesley waited patiently. One by one, almost all of the most productive draft-eligible receivers in college football were being taken.
The Ravens drafted Oklahoma’s Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (1,318 receiving yards) in the first round with the No. 25 overall pick. Mississippi’s A.J. Brown (1,320) went in the second round. Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler (1,318) went in the fourth. Fresno State’s KeeSean Johnson (1,340) went in the sixth, and Hawaii’s John Ursua (1,343) went in the seventh.
Wesley went undrafted — after he’d finished with the third-most receiving yards in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season (1,410), 92 more than Brown. On April 27, after 28 receivers were taken during seven rounds in the draft, Wesley signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent.
“I was just sitting back and letting God’s work handle everything," Wesley said. “I was being patient and waiting for my turn. I went undrafted, but I got my chance to be in the NFL, so I’m going to take it and run with it.”
Since arriving in Baltimore, he has made some standout plays on the practice field, amping up the intensity of the battle for a roster spot. He will get his biggest chance yet to prove he belongs Thursday during the Ravens’ preseason opener against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.
At 6 feet 4 and 206 pounds, Wesley’s lanky build stands out on the Ravens’ practice field. Wesley is the second-tallest wide receiver on the Ravens roster; only 6-5 Jaleel Scott is taller.
“He looks like an NBA player,” said Exos performance director Brent Callaway, who helped train Wesley for the draft in Texas.
Callaway, who has worked with NFL players for 16 years, said Wesley has an impressive vertical leap and speed for someone his size.
“He has the ability to drop his center of mass and change direction or drop the center mass and hit the brakes on you in two or three steps,” Callaway said. “That is just ridiculous for somebody that height.”
But even with Wesley’s production as a third-year junior in a pass-happy system, there wasn’t enough to entice a team to draft him. The best explanation Callaway could come up with was the number of question marks surrounding Wesley.
NFL teams like to know what they’re getting with their draft picks, and with so many wide receivers to choose from, teams tend to take players who have a track record of success or untapped potential.
While Wesley had one of the best seasons by a Texas Tech receiver in school history and ranked tied for second in the FBS with four games of at least 150 yards, his impressive junior season stood alone. Wesley’s 88 catches for 1,410 yards were a giant jump from his 10 catches for 137 yards as a sophomore and zero catches in four games as a freshman.
Athletically, NFL scouts said Wesley lacked top-end speed and explosiveness. At the NFL scouting combine, Wesley did not run the 40-yard dash nor the 60-yard shuttle. While he posted an impressive vertical jump (37.0 inches) and had good size (94th percentile in arm length and 89th percentile in wingspan among receivers), he struggled in the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill.
Wesley said he had doubters long before the draft. He’s been told he’s too slow and that his frame is too small.
“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder,” Wesley said. “Adversity is going to hit again, and I’m going to overcome it.”
Wesley has made up for his disadvantages with hard work and focus. The Las Vegas native said he approaches routes like a dance. His childhood nickname was “Tweezy,” because he used to copy the dance moves of singer Chris Brown, aka “C. Breezy.” He has treated those he trained with at Exos to the “Tweezy show,” Callaway said, and he translates his moves to the field.
They’ve been evident throughout Ravens training camp. He’s made plays on several 50-50 balls where he’s outjumped his defender, including on a long catch Monday against the Jaguars during a joint practice. It’s been rare to see him drop a well-thrown pass, and he’s used his length to catch balls that miss their target.
His playmaking ability has gotten the attention of Ravens coaches.
“From Antoine Wesley, I see a lot of completed passes, a lot of catches,” coach John Harbaugh said Saturday. “He makes plays on the ball, contested catches, and he runs good routes. Last time I checked, that’s what receivers are supposed to do. So, he’s doing a good job.”
“Making plays is what a receiver does,” Wesley said. “There’s no distance to it. You’re supposed to do what you’re expected to do.”
Harbaugh said the Ravens will most likely keep five or six receivers on their 53-man roster. With veterans Willie Snead IV, Chris Moore and Seth Roberts, and top rookies Brown and Miles Boykin almost certain to make the team, Wesley will be competing for the final spot with Scott, Michael Floyd, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr. and Sean Modster.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said with his route-running skills and understanding of the playbook, the biggest thing left for Wesley is his physical development.
“Every day he does something well, and that’s good,” Roman said. “He’s a talented young man, and I think he has a bright future if he can continue on this trajectory.”