The Ravens tight end group is vastly different from last year, and that is most certainly a good thing in this case. Gone is the ineffective Ed Dickson, replaced by Owen Daniels. Dennis Pitta is fully healthy after missing all but four games last season. And the Ravens drafted gifted blocker Crockett Gilmore in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Last years leading receiver at the tight end position is the now retired Dallas Clark, who posted a feeble 343 yards receiving. Stats like that speak volumes, and the lack of a viable middle-of-the-field threat was a large part of what ailed the Ravens offense last season. Quarterbacks simply need to have short to intermediate passing options they can rely on.
Great changes bring with them great questions, and this new look Ravens tight end group comes with plenty of them. Here are three of the most pressing.
1. How will Dennis Pitta adjust to the new offense?
Quite often, it takes players time to adjust to new schemes. Sometimes they simply don’t adjust at all, or the scheme fails to take advantage of player strength. This is not going to be the case with Pitta and a Gary Kubiak led offense. Kubiak has a stellar reputation for featuring tight ends, especially in the passing game.
Pitta is part of a new wave of NFL tight ends that can line up all over the formation and create mismatches against defenses. His talent likely has Kubiak salivating after he propelled Owen Daniels and Shannon Sharpe to stardom. Now fully healthy, we expected big things from Pitta in 2014 anyway. Now we expect really big things.
Kubiak’s offense is centered around establishing the run and following up with play action passes on the bootleg. This is a system whose success is reliant on tight ends, both as pass catchers and blockers. Tight ends are also featured heavily in the red zone. Some fear that Owen Daniels may take snaps away from Pitta, but Kubiak ran more two tight end sets in 2012 than any team in the league. He is going to play, a lot.
2. What kind of production can we expect from Owen Daniels?
Signed to a one year, (cheap) $1 million contract, Daniels is a former Pro Bowler who was once one of the top tight ends in the league. Now 31, he is at the age when tight ends typically face a sharp decline in effectiveness. Daniels still generated some interest on the open market due to his sure hands and scarcity at the position, yet opted to stick with the only head coach he has every played for in Kubiak.
It’s hard to gauge how much of a decline Daniels has made since he only played five games last season after suffering a broken leg. In 2012 he had a stellar year, racking up 62 receptions for 716 yards and 6 touchdowns. Even in his five game stint last season he managed 24 receptions for 252 yards and 3 touchdowns, which would have easily bested his 2012 numbers if prorated over an entire 16 game season.
John Harbaugh has promised that the Ravens have a big role in store for Daniels, and they obviously plan to run a ton of two tight end sets. There won’t be as many balls to go around as he saw in Houston, as the Ravens have more talented pass catchers. We still think that 500-600 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns is a conservative estimate.
3. What role will Crockett Gillmore play?
The massive 6’6″, 260 pound rookie is already perhaps the best blocker of all three tight ends. And that is likely to be his role in 2014. Gillmore has shown excellent physicality, sound technique, and a desire to compete in camp so far. He even got into a fight with defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.
Gillmore also showed that he can catch the ball in camp, despite his limited experience at the position. He has only been a tight end since his sophomore season at Colorado State after moving over from defensive end. He displayed excellent blocking skills in college while also catching 111 balls for 1,308 yards and 8 touchdowns over three seasons.
Gillmore’s blocking is what will butter his bread in 2014 and get him on the field, but he could also be used in some red zone packages where his size would be a huge asset. The young man certainly has the ability to become an all around tight end down the road, which is a rare and coveted commodity in today’s NFL.
How do you think the Ravens tight ends will fare in 2014?