Carroll County Times

Ravens could draft TE early even if Pitta is back

MOBILE, Ala. - The Baltimore Ravens were interested in drafting a tight end around this time last year.

They had Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson both under contract at the time, but coach John Harbaugh said at last year's league meetings in Arizona that the Ravens were interested enough in adding a young tight end that he thought there was a good chance they would take one during the NFL draft.

They didn't end up drafting one, but there appears to be a good chance Baltimore could take one in this year's draft even if Pitta is retained as a free agent, possibly even as early as the first round.

General manager Ozzie Newsome said at the Ravens' season-review news conference earlier this month that one of Baltimore's priorities this offseason is finding a player who can make tough catches on third downs, like Anquan Boldin did so often in 2012.

That player could be a wide receiver. It could also be a tight end.

Pitta was used primarily in the slot once he returned from a hip injury late last season. So if Pitta is back, former NFL scout and current draft analyst Bucky Brooks says that the Ravens should go after a more traditional tight end that can be useful as both as a pass-catcher and a blocker.

"When you think about the way the position is evolving in the league, you need to have one of each ... your traditional blocker with that move guy [like Pitta] that can kind of create matchups," Brooks said.

The Ravens expected to have two tight ends capable of creating matchup problems this season with Pitta and Dickson, and they expected both to play big roles in the passing game.

But Pitta hurt his hip early in training camp and missed most of the season. Dickson, meanwhile, partially tore his hamstring during training camp. He returned for the first game of the regular season, but he struggled with drops early in the year and wasn't a factor for most of the season.

Dickson did serve as somewhat of that traditional blocking tight end, especially once Pitta returned, but he is unlikely to be retained as an unrestricted free agent.

There is no guarantee Pitta will be back either, but Baltimore's brass has said that re-signing Pitta is one of the team's top priorities during the coming months.

And if the Ravens do get Pitta back, they could place a priority on finding a tight end that can be the factor that they expected Dickson to be to go along with Pitta this past year.

This draft also has several tight ends that teams believe could be good players in the NFL.

"From the junior standpoint, those guys coming into it, that really strengthens this group overall," said Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl and a former Ravens and Cleveland Browns executive.

Eric Ebron is one of those juniors. He may be of interest to Baltimore in the first round.

He's not a traditional tight end, but he could provide a big, physical and athletic complement in the passing game to Pitta and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown.

He had 62 catches for 973 yards this past season.

Jace Amaro from Texas Tech could also be of interest to the Ravens as early as the first round.

Amaro is 6-5, 260 and had 106 catches for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

Brooks is also high on Troy Niklas from Notre Dame, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington is a former college basketball player who is expected to go during the first two or three rounds of the draft.

Seferian-Jenkins is 6-foot-6, 275 pounds. He only had 36 catches for 450 yards this season, but he had eight touchdowns. He also had 69 catches for 852 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012. Niklas only had 32 catches this year, but Brooks likes his upside.

"I think the name that could rise is Troy Niklas because he is 6-7, 260 pounds and looks like he runs pretty well," Brooks said. "He's a big guy. So when you think about creating mismatches and those matchups, you're looking for someone who either has the speed and athleticism to do it or they're just a big body that you know a small [defensive back] can't match up with."

This draft has a little bit of both, which could benefit the Ravens.