The Ravens still have a glaring hole at tight end on their roster.
Ben Watson, who led the team with 61 receptions last season after missing all of 2016 with a torn Achilles, signed a one-year deal with the Saints. Crockett Gillmore is an unrestricted free agent after missing the entire season with a knee injury and wants to reset his career as an offensive lineman.
This means the team will initially look to the NFL Draft to fill the void.
“The tight end class … there are some pretty good ones out there,” Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said. “And they’re of the athletic variety, pass-catching tight ends that certainly could help impact our offense. So, from that standpoint I think there are going to be some guys, targets, for us in each of the rounds who can come in and help us. In terms of development, that’s a position where a lot of times they’re asked to do a lot of different things, and it takes a guy time to grow at this level with the speed of the game and the different things you ask them to do.
“I think that’s why you have some guys who may come in as a No. 2 and have solid production as a No. 2, but then they grow. If you think about Dennis [Pitta’s] first year here, I think he had five catches or eight catches, and then he blew up the second year. So, there’s times when it just takes guys to get a little bit familiar, especially when you’re asked to do more things.”
The top 10 tight ends available in this year’s NFL Draft, according to ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, are:
- Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
- Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
- Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
- Mike Gesicki, Penn State
- Jordan Akins, Central Florida
- Ian Thomas, Indiana
- Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
- Jordan Thomas, Mississippi State
- Will Dissly, Washington
- Durham Smythe, Notre Dame
Most draft pundits predict a tight end won’t be selected until late in the first round. As a result, the Ravens could trade down from the No. 16 overall pick to grab a player and pick up another selection.
A more likely scenario is picking up a quality tight end released from another team because of salary cap restrictions and/or a roster crunch. Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome has said numerous times that is a key part of the Ravens’ off-season strategy.
The overall priority is adding playmakers for quarterback Joe Flacco, who has struggled since the team won Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco was sidelined throughout training camp last season with an ailing back. However, he did not miss a regular season game and threw for 3,141 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
The tight end is a key part of the Ravens offense and Flacco likes to target those players, underscored by his relationship with Pitta, who officially retired in 2017 after a pair of devastating hip injuries. Newsome needs to add another player of that caliber for the Ravens to improve the passing game, which was ranked 29th in the NFL.
However, it appears the Ravens are not going alter their draft strategy of taking the best player available.
“We’ve got to make a pick at 16 – there’s got to be somebody there that we like. We’ll have a good player there. It might be a wideout, it could be tackle, it could be a defensive lineman, it could be a quarterback, it could be a corner,” said assistant general manager Eric DeCosta. “Whatever it is, we’ve got to make a pick. I think that the wide receiver class.
“The biggest thing we have to do is find guys that we like – good football players – and whoever we pick across the board, we’ve got to find the right guys. I think there’s a strong chance that if we do pick at 16, we’ll find a guy that fills a specific need for this team that helps us win games early on. It’s always what we try to do.”