By: Ashley Anderson
The Ravens are a team that has always heavily used their tight ends. From Shannon Sharpe, Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta, and now Mark Andrews, Baltimore demonstrates a knack for finding superb players at the position. This year, there are a few major questions looming over the tight end group.
3.) How will Mark Andrews perform in a contract year?
Lamar Jackson is about to get paid handsomely, and his contract will have a ripple effect on the entire Ravens roster. His favorite target so far, Mark Andrews, is in line for a new deal as well. The Jackson to Andrews connection showed pure chemistry from the word go, and this season is critical for both.
A former third-round pick out of Oklahoma, Andrews has become one of the top tight ends in the league. Despite living with type 1 diabetes, he amassed 2,105 yards and caught 20 touchdowns since becoming a starter his rookie year. Only five other tight ends in NFL history hit the 2,000 yards, 20-touchdowns mark in their first three seasons, so it is clear he is special.
One minor issue Andrews struggled with at times is drops. Some of that seems to be based on concentration, while other times it could relate to ball placement. After racking up 64 catches for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019, Andrews’ production dipped a bit to 58 receptions for 701 yards and seven TDs last season. With a big payday on the line, will Andrews bounce back and have a career season?
2.) Who will emerge as the Baltimore Ravens’ third tight end?
There are several players competing for what will presumably be the third tight end role, one that cannot be overlooked. Fullback Patrick Ricard kind of filled that role last year following the departure of Hayden Hurst, but the three tight end sets that were so prolific in 2019 became scarcer in 2020. Now, the Ravens are looking to fill a pretty big void with some relative newcomers.
Early this offseason, Baltimore sent an undisclosed pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for Josh Oliver. A 2019 third-round pick from San Jose State, Oliver has yet to make an impact in his first two seasons due to various injuries. However, he appears healthy thus far, and at just 24-years old should have plenty of gas left in the tank. Standing in at 6-foot-5, 250-pounds, he certainly has the size to make a splash.
Baltimore also re-signed Eric Tomlinson to a one-year deal back in February. They then snagged undrafted free agent Tony Poljan after the Draft. Eli Wolf had some time to develop on the practice squad last year, and he made some plays in minicamp, while Jacob Breeland is still working to recover from a college knee injury.
Early odds are on Oliver winning the job, especially due to his receiving ability. However, Tomlinson played well when called upon last year, and he is a solid blocker. Someone else could rise from the pack during training camp and the preseason, so this is something to keep a close eye on over the next couple of months.
1.) Will Nick Boyle be ready for the Baltimore Ravens by Week 1?
Boyle is arguably the best blocking tight end in the NFL. Recognizing this, the Ravens inked him to a two-year, $13 million deal that keeps him in Baltimore through 2023. Unfortunately, Boyle suffered a horrific injury that cut his 2020 season short and put 2021 in jeopardy.
If you are squeamish, feel free to skip past this next part. In what was already a rough night for the Baltimore Ravens, finding themselves down 23-10 against New England, the Patriots added injury to insult. On a low tackle by Terez Hall, Boyle’s knee moved in ways nature never intended. He suffered PCL, MCL, and meniscus tears, a fractured tibia, and his hamstring was ripped from the bone.
It was the first major injury of Boyle’s career, and it was undoubtedly gruesome. There was a time when a torn ACL meant a player’s career, not just season, was in doubt. Modern medicine has largely eliminated that, but everyone responds and heals differently from knee issues.
For example, Joe Flacco, who was durable throughout his career till suffering a torn ACL and MCL, was never the same player once he came back. On the flip side, Tom Brady tore his ACL all the way back in 2008, and it was hardly a blip on the radar in his career. With no prior injury history to look back on, Boyle is facing plenty of firsts throughout this process.
NEXT POST: The NFL Covid-19 vaccine policy is a fair rule that makes sense
For a team that often uses not just two but three tight ends, Boyle’s health is crucial. No exact timeframe has been given for his return, and he is continuing to rehab at the Castle. If and when he returns is a huge question lingering over Baltimore’s offseason.