With the start of training camp beginning in less than two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.
We continue with the tight ends, an ascending young group with much upside playing for an offensive coordinator in Greg Roman who very much values the position. According to SharpFootballStats.com, the Ravens offense used two or more tight ends 40 percent of the time in 2018 — the league average was roughly 23 percent — a ratio that remained pretty consistent in the transition from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson at quarterback.
With Baltimore’s offense remaining centered around the run and still having question marks at wide receiver, the tight ends should continue to be featured prominently as both blockers and pass-catching threats. And as Football Outsiders noted defenses using at least five defensive backs nearly three-fourths of the time in 2018 to combat the ever popular three-receiver sets, there’s a potential advantage to be gained for passing offenses employing more tight ends with speed.
Below is a look at the tight ends who stand out for various reasons:
The Man — Mark Andrews
Skinny: The 2018 third-round pick didn’t look like he’d make much impact after a hamstring injury slowed him last summer, but Andrews was one of the NFL’s best rookie tight ends with 34 receptions for 552 yards and three touchdowns and emerged as Jackson’s deep threat down the stretch. According to Pro Football Focus, Andrews ranked fifth among tight ends at 2.01 yards per route run with only George Kittle, Travis Kelce, O.J. Howard, and Zach Ertz ahead of him. With Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle, Andrews may have more 2019 upside than any pass catcher on the roster.
Old Reliable — Nick Boyle
Skinny: The Ravens paid a steep price with a three-year, $18 million contract that included $10 million guaranteed to re-sign someone without a career touchdown or a single season of more than 213 receiving yards, but that speaks to how they value one of the league’s best blocking tight ends. Baltimore is expected to play its top three tight ends extensively, but Boyle remains atop the depth chart with the ability to essentially serve as a sixth offensive lineman — PFF graded him as the ninth-best run-blocking tight end last year — while showing just enough receiving ability to keep defenses honest.
Under Fire — Hayden Hurst
Skinny: Placing Hurst in this category is tough after a stress fracture in his foot cost him the end of the preseason and the first four games of his rookie year, but a first-round pick turning 26 in August simply must produce this fall or the “bust” label will be thrown out there very quickly. His 13 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown in 12 games were underwhelming, but Hurst’s foot still wasn’t healed by the end of the season and required an extra month of rest. He added 20 pounds in the offseason to be able to play stronger, and he showed his potential last summer before being sidelined. He knows the pressure is on.
Up-and-Comer — Andrews
Skinny: The Ravens would love to include Hurst in this category as well, but Andrews receives the nod with the best season by a rookie tight end in franchise history.
Sleeper — Charles Scarff
Skinny: After four tight ends played at least 275 offensive snaps last year, Baltimore would probably like to keep a fourth at the position with the 6-foot-5, 249-pound rookie from Delaware looking the part as a blocking option to replace Maxx Williams. However, Hurst and Andrews figure to play more snaps than they did as rookies and the roster crunch at other positions may lead the Ravens to simply use an offensive lineman or fullback-defensive tackle Patrick Ricard as an extra blocking tight end if necessary.
The Rest — Cole Herdman
Skinny: The 6-foot-4, 238-pound rookie free agent totaled more than 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his career at Purdue, but he wouldn’t figure to have a path to a 53-man roster spot without injuries at the position or really surprising as a blocker.