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There are several arguments against Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta being the next out-of-nowhere Top 10 tight end. For starters, his first two opponents (Philadelphia and Cincinnati) are notoriously ineffective against the tight end. Furthermore, he’s a Day 3 draft pick, selected after another tight end on the Ravens roster ( Ed Dickson) in the same draft, and he has not produced in his first two years in the league. All of this is why people are doubting him. I'll erase those doubts below.
First, he had a strong finish to 2011, scoring touchdowns in four of his last eight games, including the playoffs. Last year was supposed to be the year Joe Flacco took the next step, but the pass offense was stuck in neutral all season. Their stud rookie wide out Torrey Smith was inconsistent and playing hurt, veteran Anquan Boldin was battling an injury as well as the defense’s attention as there was no threat to help him out, and Dickson took the majority of the primary tight end snaps. The shift began in early December as Pitta quietly started taking looks away from Dickson as over those same eight games that Pitta became more involved Dickson netted a total of just 15 receptions.
Plans were quietly in place to expand Pitta’s role this offseason, but then he broke his hand the first week of training camp in late July, putting a stop to all of his momentum. He quickly became an afterthought as the previously little used tight end missed all of preseason, which normally would mean a significantly reduced role for a fringe player, which is what most thought Pitta to be. At the time of the injury it wasn’t even a guarantee he would return for Week 1, let alone get nine targets and a touchdown.
He never dominated in college, but he was a very effective and reliable weapon in the passing game, something not common with college tight ends. He slipped on draft day for the same reason many of his ilk do, he didn’t fit the profile NFL general managers are looking for. Someday one would think that front offices would adjust to the Russell Wilson and Antonio Brown types like they have for utility running back types like Darren Sproles ( LaMichael James, second-round pick) and undersized cornerback types like Tramon Williams (Casey Heyward, second-round pick), but they’re not there yet at every position.
Prototypical profile or not, if a player makes plays in college they need a long look in the NFL. He didn’t do anything between the end of his senior season and Draft day to diminish opinions, either. The steady and reliable hands he displayed in college were on hand throughout the tour of offseason workouts. He catches everything and attacks his opponent, linebacker or safety, on all of his passing routes. He’ll never be confused with a game breaker, but he has enough moves to make plays after the catch, too. This ability gets his quarterback to return to him time-and-time again, the safety valve every quarterback covets, and that’s exactly what he’s developing into in Baltimore.
Like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Pitta was drafted with a partner that cut into his chances of breaking out sooner. This is a big reason he remained under the radar to this point. The superior athlete, Dickson, has been given the rope up to this point. As Dickson hasn’t developed on those skills, the torch has been passed to the more reliable Pitta. It’s possible the Ravens wanted to do it sooner, but concussion issues plagued Pitta’s rookie season, and Dickson’s fast start to 2011 lengthened his advantage.
As 2011 went on and Dickson’s growth stunted, Pitta received more and more action. Neither was drafted for their skills as a blocker, they were both drafted with the idea of slowly transitioning to more of a passing attack. This is why the Ravens are not concerned about being thin on the depth chart at wide receiver behind their starting two. Instead of the third wide receiver, the Ravens utilize the running back and tight end.
It’s taken three years, but the Ravens have finally settled on the better football player with moderate athleticism, Pitta, as opposed to the better athlete and limited football player, Dickson. Those owners that lost Hernandez, absolutely go pick up Pitta before Martellus Bennett. If he’s somehow available in a dynasty league, find a way to add him. If he’s already rostered, a modest offer will likely get his new owner to part with his recent waiver claim. In his mind, he’ll be making the move for free. Little does he know he is giving up a Top 10 tight end. Pitta is the real deal.
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