BALTIMORE, Md. - Ravens rookie wide receiver Aaron Mellette knows he has to work extra hard to make a positive impression.
A seventh-round draft pick this year, Mellette already faces longer odds to make the roster compared to those selected higher. Adding to the fact that the 6-foot-2, 217 pound Sanford, N.C. native played his college football at tiny Football Championship Subdivision school Elon, and Mellette has an even higher hill to climb.
So, when Ravens coach John Harbaugh singled Mellette out by calling him "lackadaisical" and "lazy" during a recent practice, it could have been easy for him to wilt under the pressure. Instead, Mellette took the criticsm in stride and has worked to make an impact on the Ravens offense.
That was the case Thursday night when Mellette caught a 40-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the Ravens 27-23 come-from-behind preseason victory over the Atlanta Falcons Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It was in that moment, but then you get past it, and you're in the next minute," said Mellette on Harbaugh's comments at practice. "After that happened, I went right back out on the practice field the next series and made some more plays. If the coach gets on you, you can't harp on it. You have to move on."
That is the mindset Mellette has kept on the field during the Ravens first two preseason games. He also caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Taylor in last week's 44-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Making impactful plays can only help Mellette, who is in a wide open competition for the receiver spots behind Torrey Smith.
So far, Jacoby Jones has just one catch in two games, while Tandon Doss' lone catch in the preseason was a 5-yard score against the Falcons. Also, newly signed Brandon Stokley is still getting acclimated with the offense and appeared in just a handful of plays Thursday night. All are trying to fill the void created when the Ravens traded Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason.
Harbaugh said he was impressed with how Mellette responded this week.
"I think he has done a great job of battling through some adversity and responding well to some hard coaching, and that's the mark of a guy that I think has a lot of character, a lot of confidence – so, he's done really well. [I'm] proud of him, very proud of him," Harbaugh said.
Despite coming from a small school, Mellette comes to the Ravens with some impressive college credentials.
Mellette finished his Elon career with 304 catches for 4,254 yards, 44 touchdowns and 23 100-yard games. All of those marks are good enough for second all-time in both Elon and Southern Conference history. Last season, Mellette finished with 97 catches for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Mellette said he also knows that playing at a small school doesn't carry with it the same stigma it has in the past. He points to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who played at FBS school Delaware before being drafted in the first round in 2008.
"Over the last five years, the small school label is really kind of getting pushed out the window," Mellette said . "If guys can play, they can play, and NFL scouts will come find you."
Taylor said that Mellette has adapted well to the NFL, and believes if given the opportunity, he has the ability to succeed at the highest level.
"I'm just confident in his ability," Taylor said. "Of course, he's young, and he is going to make mistakes, but he doesn't let it bother him. He's confident in his hands, and he's confident to even go out there to make plays against anybody, and that's been in our practices, and it shows up in the game as well."
In the meantime, Mellette said he plans on just continuing to work hard in practice and try to take advantage of any opportunity he is given, whether that be playing with the starters or the second- and third-team offenses. He added that wants to eventually be considered the "steal of the draft."
"I'm just always telling myself when coach Harbaugh calls my name to go in, I'm just going to go out and make the most of it, and I did that two games in a row," Mellette said." When you come in and you're not a high draft choice, and you're not really heralded, that's how it is – you have to come in and make big plays."