When Baltimore came back around in the fourth round and nabbed tight end Dennis Pitta from BYU, many observers were probably dumbfounded.
Two high-profile tight end prospects in back-to-back spots?
It seemed that the Ravens’ selection of Pitta and Ed Dickson may have been overkill.
However, there is definitely more than meets the eye.
Although Pitta and Dickson are similar in size and weight measurables, and are exceptional pass catching tight ends with unrefined blocking skills, their roles and route combinations will be different in the offense. While Pitta is someone who can play outside of the hash marks, look for Dickson to live in that zip code.
In Dickson, the Ravens may be able to unearth their version of Jermichael Finley or Marques Colston — lean, long receivers that stretch the windows for a quarterback to throw to. In other words, these guys have the wingspan to extend to the ball like other receivers can’t.
While Colston is purely a wideout who has not lined up on the line, Finley is an all-purpose player who has worked off the line, the slot, and out wide. In fact, considering that Finley put on quite an aerial show against the Ravens a year ago, he was probably the inspiration for selecting Dickson ahead of Pitta and a handful of other talented tight ends in the third round.
Finley represents the new age matchup nightmare. He is someone who can get by defenders using his speed. However, even if he doesn’t create much separation downfield, he can out-box the defender and grab the ball at the top of its flight. And given his unique wingspan and leaping ability, he has a bigger advantage than other tight ends who are also athletic enough to split out.
When it comes to receivers like Colston and Finley, they don’t have to be the best route runners. Given their catching range, they just have to be able to successfully release into their route. Once they are in space, the quarterback has the ability to lob the ball in a spot where the receiver can go get it. It’s the same principle when a point guard throws the ball to a big guy into the paint from the top of the key. The point guard knows that his guy will sift through the bodies to make the catch.
It will be interesting to see if Dickson can be that same type of target within the mainframe of the Baltimore offense. The offense has missed a big body who can stretch the field. Even though Todd Heap presented that ability at the end of last season, he has slowed considerably and does not have the explosiveness to stretch out for the ball as he once did.
Meanwhile, in Pitta, the Ravens have another athletic pass catcher who can line up and motion to different spots. He has a capacity to improve on his blocking skills — more so than Dickson — and present a reliable target over the middle. Like Dickson, he is also devastating after the catch.