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Rookie Maxx Williams is Ravens' latest potential star tight end

Maxx Williams hasn't set foot on an NFL practice field, yet is getting a ton of early praise from analysts and fans.

Some of that is because Williams was believed to be the top tight end in the 2015 draft. Some also comes from the sheer joy that was generated when the Ravens essentially stole the Minnesota tight end from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Williams was effective but not spectacular for the Golden Gophers, catching 36 passes for 569 yards and eight touchdowns last season. But his new team has a darn-good track record when it comes to selecting tight ends high in the draft.

Before this year's draft, the Ravens had selected nine tight ends since 1996, including four in the fourth round or higher. Each of those players, at the least, became solid contributors and a couple became stars.

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Todd Heap, selected 31st overall in 2001 out of Arizona State, leads the list. In 10 seasons with the Ravens, Heap made 467 receptions for 5,492 yards (both second-most in franchise history) and scored 41 touchdowns despite mostly playing during the Ravens' quarterback-carousel era.

He had two seasons of more than 70 receptions and a third in which he had 68, Ravens single-season success by a tight end matched only by Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe.

The team's next-best tight ends were taken back-to-back in 2010, when Ed Dickson (Oregon) was selected in the third round with the 70th overall pick and Dennis Pitta (BYU) was selected in the fourth round, 114th overall.

Though Pitta, attemping to come back from his second serious hip injury, helped the Ravens to the Super Bowl XLVII title in 2013, Dickson was the more-effective player early. He caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns in 2011 while sharing time with Pitta, who had 40 receptions fo 405 yards and three touchdowns.

Of course, during the Ravens' eventual Super Bowl season, Pitta emerged as the team's top threat at tight end, catching 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns and becoming quarterback Joe Flacco's security blanket.

Pitta missed most of the past two seasons with a fractured and dislocated hip, so veteran Owen Daniels received the majority of snaps at tight end. But 2014 third-round draft pick Crockett Gillmore (Colorado State) had his moments in relief, including scoring a touchdown against the Steelers in a 30-17 win in an AFC wild-card playoff game.

The Ravens also drafted Delaware tight end Nick Boyle in the fifth round on Saturday, but he's expected to be more of a blocker in the NFL.

If Pitta cannot play in 2015, Williams -- the 55th overall pick -- likely will receive the bulk of snaps. And if history repeats itself, he'll quickly become yet another effective tight end drafted by the Ravens.

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