Looking ahead to the 2013 NFL season, Matt Vensel over the next few days will break down the five Ravens players worth drafting in your fantasy league and when you should draft them. Though they are worth picking up, he did not include the Baltimore D/ST or kicker Justin Tucker because they should go in the final two rounds.
After catching just 41 passes in his first two NFL seasons, Dennis Pitta of the Ravens emerged as one of the NFL's better pass-catching tight ends in 2012. No, he wasn't as productive as those athletic freaks like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. But he put up fine numbers with quarterback Joe Flacco often looking his way.
Overtaking Ed Dickson as their top tight end, Pitta was second on the Ravens with seven touchdown catches and was tied for second on the team in receptions. He was third in targets and third in receiving yards, too.
And there is reason to believe Pitta could be even more productive in 2013. The offense may be tweaked to get Pitta and Dickson on the field together more often, and Pitta figures to see more balls thrown his way in the red zone. He probably won't put up crazy numbers like Graham or Gronkowski, but he should ascend to that second tier of fantasy tight ends.
2012 STATS: 61 receptions on 93 targets, 669 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions. Zero fumbles lost.
2012 FANTASY RANKING: seventh among tight ends in scoring with 108.90 points, based on NFL.com's standard scoring.
THE SKINNY: Pitta burst out of the gate a season ago, catching 18 passes in the first three games of the season and scoring a pair of touchdowns. As most tight ends do, Pitta dropped a few duds on fantasy owners, but at season's end, he ranked seventh among all tight ends in scoring. Now, Pitta is entering a contract season and he could be poised to cash in when it is over. There is a void in the Ravens offense after the trade of Anquan Boldin, and outside of Torrey Smith, no pass-catcher should benefit more than the 28-year-old tight end.
BURNING QUESTION: How much will Pitta line up as a traditional tight end and how often will he be used as a wide receiver or slot receiver? The Ravens used Pitta all over the field last season, and he was especially productive working out of the slot. Don't be surprised if the Ravens use more two-TE sets and rely on Pitta to replace Boldin's big body in the slot.
WHEN TO PICK HIM: Unless you snag Graham or Gronkowski in the early rounds, you should wait until the middle rounds to take your tight end, especially if you have eyes for Pitta. You won't be alone, though. Based on ESPN's live draft results, Pitta on average has been the sixth tight end off the board with an average draft position of 74.8. The earliest you should take him is in the seventh round. If you can get him a couple of rounds after that, he will be a major steal.