Lucky of late, Ravens eye tight end

The Baltimore Sun

INDIANAPOLIS -The NFL draft sometimes is stranger than fiction.

As in Todd Heap, the best tight end of his class, falling to the Ravens as the 31st pick in 2001.

Or Ed Reed, the best safety of his class, dropping to the Ravens as the 24th pick a year later.

A rational voice would say that lightning won't strike three times in Baltimore in one decade, that Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew will be long gone by the time the Ravens make the 26th pick April 25.

But strange things happen in NFL draft rooms every year.

"There's a history of really good tight ends falling in the draft," Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel, said yesterday at the NFL scouting combine.

"It's kind of like the safety position. For whatever reason, the league undervalues those two positions and we've been fortunate to get a guy like Todd Heap with the 31st pick and a guy like Ed Reed with the 24th pick, even though we felt those were the two best players at their position in the draft.

"That phenomenon does exist."

It has happened with other teams, as well. The Pittsburgh Steelers got tight end Heath Miller with the 30th pick of the first round in 2005.

Pettigrew is the best and most complete tight end in the class of 2009, a physical, point-of-attack blocker who can also stretch the field in the passing game. Once Pettigrew is gone, a team looking for a tight end will have to settle for a player who is good in one area or the other, but not both.

Tight ends with play-making skills this year are Shawn Nelson of Southern Mississippi, James Casey of Rice, Travis Beckum of Wisconsin, James Cook of South Carolina and Chase Coffman of Missouri.

Blockers of note include Anthony Hill of North Carolina State and Richard Quinn of North Carolina.

Then there is Cornelius Ingram of Florida, a senior who missed the 2008 season with a knee injury but who could help a team both as a blocker and as a receiver, DeCosta said.

If the Ravens miss out on Pettigrew, they could go for one of the receiving tight ends in the third round.

In John Harbaugh's first season as coach, the Ravens used Heap more as a blocker than a receiver in an obvious attempt to give rookie quarterback Joe Flacco maximum protection as often as possible. Injuries affected Heap's production this season, and he finished with a modest 35 catches and three touchdowns.

The Ravens will look for a dominating player when they look at tight ends this year.

"What we want is a guy to be really dominant at one thing or the other," DeCosta said. "Usually the top tight end is either an outstanding blocker or an outstanding receiver.

"If a guy's not outstanding in either regard, he's probably a backup-type tight end. And if a guy excels as a blocker or a receiver, he's got a chance to really help a team. If he can do both, he's got a chance to be an elite guy."

This year, that would be Pettigrew.

"I try to be the most complete tight end I can be," he said yesterday during his session with the media. "I try to do both."

At 6 feet 53/4, the 263-pound Pettigrew is a physical marvel. He could have left Oklahoma State after his junior year but chose to stay.

"I gained a lot more experience, got to work more on my technique and got stronger," he said.

He also got a rap sheet. Early last year, Pettigrew was charged with assaulting a police officer, and he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and public intoxication.

Aside from his image, the NFL's scrutiny here will extend to Pettigrew's speed.

"They think my speed is questionable," he said. "I know I'm faster than what they think I am."

To make the best impression, Pettigrew spent the past several weeks working under fallen Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson ("He knows what he's doing," Pettigrew said) to improve his speed.

"Now he's not as gifted an athlete as guys like Cook and Beckum and Nelson in terms of running routes, and speed and quickness," DeCosta said. "But he's very tall, very physical, he's good got hands. He's also very strong after the catch and can break tackles and make plays."

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