Ravens' fans worst fears were confirmed when Coach John Harbaugh announced that Dennis Pitta would be out for the 2013-2014 season with a fractured hip. Pitta was one of Flacco's top contributors during both the regular season and the post season, and his injury is a huge blow to the Ravens’ hopes to repeat as Super Bowl champions. While replacing Pitta's production value with an in-house solution is a tough task, it’s not secret how the Ravens plan to do it. The Ravens other young tight end, Ed Dickson, is the logical option to replace Pitta as the team's number one tight end, and even he said that he needed to "step up". But will Dickson be good enough to replace Pitta? I attempt to break down the numbers and see if he can come close to living up to the standard Pitta has set for him.
It’s hard to remember that as late as the start of last season, Dickson, not Pitta, was supposed to be the tight end of the future. Dickson put up very good numbers in 2011, averaging 3.4 receptions per game and 33 yards per game in the regular season. While Pitta definitely played better in 2012, then Dickson did in 2011, it isn’t as clear cut as one might thing. Pitta only averaged 8.8 more yards per game and .4 more receptions per game in 2012 then Dickson did in 2011. So if Dickson plays like he did in 2011, there might not be as big of a drop off from Pitta to Dickson as one might thing.
“But,” worried Ravens’ fans might say “there is no guarantee that Dickson will be as good as he was in 2011. If he started playing badly in 2012, why would he improve next year?” Well, Dickson actually didn’t get much worse in 2012, he was just used differently. Instead of being used as the receiving tight end in the Ravens two tight end sets, he was usually the blocking tight end. So while Dickson was measurably worse from 2011 to 2012 in his per game numbers (he had fewer yards per game and receptions per game), his per catch numbers were about the same. He not only increased the his yards per reception but actually INCREASED catch rate (a statistic that measures the percentage of passes completed to a receiver) from 60.7% in 2011 to 64% in 2012 despite all of Ravens nation thinking Dickson couldn’t catch anything. So when Dickson returns to being the primary tight end next season, advanced football statistics give us every indication he should pick back up where he left off in 2011.
Losing Dennis Pitta is a huge blow to the Ravens. Not only was he extraordinary in the playoffs, Pitta and Flacco had tremendous chemistry throughout training camp and looked poised to play even better this coming season. But reports of Ed Dickson’s demise from his fantastic 2011 are greatly exaggerated, and if picks up where he left off when he was the primary receiving tight end, he should be able to do a great job filling in for the injured Pitta.