Each day leading up to the NFL Combine, the Sun's Kevin Van Valkenburg will blog about a different position, assess the Ravens needs, and evaluate whether or not the Ravens might use an early pick on that position, and if they did, whom it might be. Next up on the list: Tight ends
Ravens needs: Bless Todd Heap for giving it his all every week, for playing through pain and still possessing the ability to go up in traffic and make big catches. He's been a great blocker and a team player the last few years as his touches and skills have diminished. But the time has come to find his successor. Heap can't separate from linebackers anymore, and his big-play ability is limited to jump balls. L.J. Smith might as well have been in witness protection last year for as little impact as he had. Getting quarterback Joe Flacco a fast, athletic, big target with soft hands might be the best medicine for his development, maybe even more so than a wide receiver.
Best Players Available: Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma; Aaron Hernandez, Florida; Rob Gronkowski, Arizona;
Analysis: Gresham is clearly the best overall tight end, although Hernandez is such a good athlete, he could blossom into an Antonio Gates or a Vernon Davis with the right coaching and desire. Gresham is a potential All-Pro, but his injury history is a bit of a concern. He would have been a first-round pick had he entered the 2009 Draft, but he chose to return to the Sooners, and then injured his knee a week into the season and missed the entire year. It's also hard to evaluate pass catchers who play in the spread, because route running and blocking often take a back seat in the Sooners fast break-style offense. Gronkowski is an intriguing player, with good size, speed and hands, but he's coming off back surgery. With all Heap's back troubles, do the Ravens want to go down that road again this early in a player's career?
Chance the Ravens pick a tight end in first round: If Gresham looks good in workouts at the combine, he might not be there when it's the Ravens turn to pick. He might have been a top 15 pick last year. But if he is there at 25, there is a good chance he'd be the best player on the Ravens' draft board.