2016 was a lost season for Crockett Gillmore, but that hasn’t stopped the Ravens tight end from expressing a strong goal going into the final year of his rookie contract.
Even with so much competition at his position.
“I don’t want to come off the field. All downs, every down, and [I want to be] the guy,” Gillmore told WNST.net in Houston last week. “There’s no reason I shouldn’t be. There’s no reason I can’t be. That’s great we have nine tight ends. They’re going to enjoy the bench. That’s just reality. I’ll tell them. They know.”
Of course, it’s a bold statement coming from a player who’s appeared in just seven of Baltimore’s last 20 regular-season games because of injuries. Gillmore appeared to be on his way to becoming an established NFL starter by catching 33 passes for 412 yards and four touchdowns in 2015 before back and shoulder injuries ended his season in early December.
Shoulder surgery disrupted Gillmore’s offseason a year ago, and the surprising return of veteran Dennis Pitta limited the third-year tight end’s opportunities in the passing game as he made just eight receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore’s first seven games. A serious hamstring injury resulted in Gillmore sitting out the final nine games of the season.
Despite being removed from the injury report in Week 16, Gillmore was deactivated against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati while the Ravens went with the trio of Pitta, Nick Boyle, and Darren Waller at tight end. But instead of viewing the long-term absence as a missed opportunity, the 2014 third-round pick put a positive spin on the ordeal.
“It was the best injury I’ve ever had,” Gillmore said. “I got to sit back. I got to learn. I got to change my attitude about what happens and what you can control and what you can’t. I came back faster and stronger and healthier than ever [at the end of the season], and we were just short. I got to see the changes in myself as well as everything else that was going on. I really got to be ready to go.
“Honestly, I feel better than I ever have physically and I was ready to go. They make the decisions, but I was ready to go. That’s all I could do. To be able to have the opportunity, that’s all I could ask for.”
Gillmore is just one of many options the Ravens currently have at a tight end position that has plenty of inventory but few clear answers. His 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame and above-average ability as a blocker make Gillmore an enticing option on paper, but the Colorado State product has already missed 16 games in his first three seasons.
This offseason, the Ravens must evaluate the pricey salary-cap figures of both Pitta ($7.7 million) and the 36-year-old Benjamin Watson ($4 million), who missed the entire 2016 season with a torn Achilles tendon. Much like Gillmore, 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams has flashed ability when he’s been on the field, but he appeared in just four games last season before undergoing surgery to repair a chronic cartilage problem in his knee. Boyle and Waller round out the list of question marks as both have already served drug-related suspensions in their brief NFL careers.
Regardless of who does it, the Ravens need more production from a position that was viewed as one of their greatest strengths entering 2016. Pitta was the only Baltimore tight end to record more than 10 receptions and led the team with 86, but his 8.5 yards per catch average ranked 131st among qualified pass-catchers in the NFL, reflecting the Ravens’ inability to push the ball down the field.
After making clear his intentions to be “the guy” at tight end in 2017, a healthy Gillmore isn’t wasting any time getting a head start on his offseason work. Like his many competitors at the position, he has plenty to prove.
“I’ve been lifting. Once I got hurt, I was lifting every day,” Gillmore said. “I got healthy there by the end [and was] getting ready to go for the playoffs and then we didn’t make it. I was healthy, so I just kept going. No reason not to.”