The Ravens have grappled with a significant void at tight end since Dennis Pitta first dislocated and fractured his right hip almost two years ago.
Although veterans Owen Daniels last year and Dallas Clark two seasons ago stabilized the position, the team lacked a long-term solution.
The Ravens are banking on former Minnesota All-American tight end Maxx Williams to be an impactful pass-catching presence. The team traded up three spots in the second round to land Williams with the 55th overall selection, sending their 58th overall pick in the second round and a fifth-round pick, 158th overall, to the Arizona Cardinals.
“When you look at a lot of successful offenses in this league, they have got multiple tight ends,” Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. “That was a big priority for us going into this draft. We spent a lot of time talking about tight ends, how to find tight ends, and this was our favorite guy in the draft. I quite honestly never dreamed he would be there for us in that range of players. We thought he’d be gone, conceivably in the first round.”
The Ravens drafted Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis in the third round with the 90th overall selection.
Williams could quickly emerge as a starter for the Ravens, who lost Daniels to the Denver Broncos in free agency via a three-year, $12 million contract. The Ravens were unwilling to pay big money to free agent tight ends Scott Chandler and Rob Housler.
“My heart was pumping all day,” Williams said during a conference call. “I was just kind of waiting for my name to get called and my phone to ring, and got more and more excited. I was fortunate enough to hear my phone ring and I’m a Raven.”
Williams is expected to work in tandem with returning tight end Crockett Gillmore, who’s primarily known for his blocking. Meanwhile, Pitta’s future remains in serious doubt.
“We felt like the tight end was someone we really wanted,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “This offense we’ll be running is very tight end friendly.”
In the past two days, the Ravens have drafted swift Central Florida wide receiver Breshad Perriman and Williams as downfield targets for quarterback Joe Flacco to utilize.
“He was fired up,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after a Friday night conversation with Flacco. “He was really excited when he found out who we got and with both picks he realized he’s got some guys to throw to.”
Williams had a formal meeting with the Ravens during the NFL scouting combine, but didn’t visit or work out privately for the team. He worked out for the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons.
“I always had a good feeling with them,” Williams said of the Ravens. “I met them at the combine, had a great meeting. I just had a good feeling going through all this that they would call my number, maybe.”
Williams declared early for the NFL draft despite having two remaining years of eligibility. He caught 61 passes for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns in college.
Williams is the son of former New York Giants starting center Brian Williams, a 1989 first-round draft pick. His mother played volleyball at Minnesota. His grandfather played quarterback at Notre Dame and was drafted by the Chicago Bears.
“I just like to go out there and try to make plays,” Williams said. “That’s the best way I can describe it. I go out there, try and make plays, try to use my body as a tight end, knowing that I’m a little bigger than a wide receiver. Just try to use my body, manipulate it and make a catch.”
At 6 feet 4 and 250 pounds, Williams ran the 40-yard dash in 4.78 seconds, had a 34.5-inch vertical leap, a 9-9 broad jump and a 4.37 20-yard shuttle.
Although Williams isn’t nearly as athletic as past Ravens tight ends, like Todd Heap and Shannon Sharpe, he has drawn high marks from scouts for being nifty enough to create separation on routes. Many scouts have opined that he’s played faster than his relatively-pedestrian timed speed.
Williams said he emulates highly-regarded Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.
“That’s who I want to be like: Jason Witten, guys that go out there and do everything for the team, blocking and catching and just being a difference,” Williams said. “That’s what I’ve always tried to be for my teammates, just go out there and make a difference on gameday. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
Young for an NFL rookie at 21 years old, Williams is expected to get stronger. He could stand to improve his strength as an in-line blocker. He bench pressed 225 pounds just 17 times at the combine.
“I got to get stronger, I knew I had to get stronger, knowing that I was younger,” Williams said. “To me, it’s just been working hard right now and doing everything I can to prepare and to be a better blocker going into this season.
“You’re a tight end. You have to be able to block. This is the NFL. Tight ends are meant to play and go out there and catch. I know to get in, I’m going to have to block and prove myself that I can block all those great guys out there.”
Williams was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection last season. His college days behind him, Williams is hoping to contribute right away with the Ravens.
“I told everyone, I was trying to be a starter right away,” Williams said. “That’s what I want. I want to go and prove that I can help make a difference and help win a championship.”
The Raven picked Davis after Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams went to the New Orleans Saints a dozen picks ahead of them. Plus, Virginia outside linebacker Eli Harold went to the San Francisco 49ers 79th overall. And versatile Northern Iowa running back David Johnson went to the Arizona Cardinals four picks before the Ravens’ selection in the third round.
Davis met with the Ravens at the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine.
Davis was an All-Big Ten Conference selection and is rated as a late first-round or early second-round draft pick.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder excelled at the Senior Bowl, drawing strong reviews from NFL scouts for his ability to escape blocks and get into the backfield. Last season, Davis had 36 tackles, nine for losses, two sacks, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal.
Davis ran the 40-yard dash in 5.07 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, had a 33-inch vertical leap and bench pressed 225 pounds 28 times. Davis’ positional flexibility with the ability play several spots across the defensive line are what attracted the Ravens to him.
Davis has long arms (34 5/8) and big hands (11 inches).
A two-time second-team All-Big Ten Conference selection. Davis is known for his aggressive and power, but doesn't always sustain his effort throughout game and has drawn criticism for his intensity waning.
The Ravens have found success in the past with Iowa players, including Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is a former Ravens offensive line coach.
“Carl Davis is a guy that dominated in the Senior Bowl,” DeCosta said. “A lot of scouts will agree that’s a really good sign. Guys that do that we think have the skills to play at a high level in the NFL. We have got great connections at Iowa. We know a lot about Carl Davis. We know exactly what we’re getting as a player.”