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Ravens training camp battles 2016: tight ends

St Louis Rams v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Few teams have the depth at tight end that the Ravens have. Between Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams, the Ravens enter training camp with four different tight ends that could start on any team in the NFL. Nick Boyle falls under that category as well, but due to his suspension, he won’t be discussed in this article. In my 53 man roster predictions article, I set the tight end depth chart as Watson, Gillmore, Pitta, and Williams in that order. Whether that does or doesn’t end up being the the depth chart the Ravens choose to go with, the depth chart at the end of training camp is by no means permanent throughout the season.

First, let’s dive into Watson. Here’s a quick history on the Ravens tight end signee. The Georgia product was drafted by the Patriots at the 32nd overall pick in the 2004 draft. Watson has a high IQ, scoring a 48 on the Wonderlic Test, the third highest score in NFL history. In his first season, Watson spent most of the year injured, and only played in one game. Watson continued to be the starter with New England, but he also continued to battle injuries. Watson moved to Cleveland in 2010, and in that 2010 season, Watson led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Watson signed with the Saints in 2013 and was forced to sit behind Jimmy Graham. But once Graham left for Seattle, Watson was able to take over the starting role. In the 2015 season, Watson had his breakout year. He started all 16 games for just the second time in his career (2010 was the other year), and put up 825 receiving yards. Watson tacked on six touchdown receptions as well. He was recognized for his on field performance with a selection to the Pro-Bowl. Off the field, Watson was named as one of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. The Saints however did not resign Watson after his breakout year, and the Ravens were there to scoop him up.

While Watson clearly is a great guy to have around the locker room as he possesses leadership qualities. He has gone on TV multiple times to discuss issues he cares about, most notable supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign. On the field, he will look to gain chemistry with Joe Flacco. While Watson is a former first round pick, he will have to prove that he is not just a system player. The New Orleans offense loves tight ends more than anyone else, yes more than Marc Trestman, and Watson will need to show his breakout year was not result of that. Plus, Watson is 35. While we don’t know if Watson’s age will catch up to him after last season, it is slightly worrisome, plus Watson comes with some injury concerns. Watson likely will start over the younger guys due to his experience. However, it may also have to do with his being the highest paid tight end on the team. The Ravens clearly value him more than the other tight ends on the team, or else they wouldn’t have shelled out the cash.

His main competition for the starting job will be Crockett Gillmore. Gillmore is a former third round pick out of Colorado State in the 2014 draft. Gillmore is bigger than Watson, and Gillmore’s size is something the Ravens love to take advantage of. The Ravens use him to block on both passing and running plays, but that doesn’t mean Gillmore doesn’t get involved in the passing game. Gillmore had two huge games last season. The first was in Week 2 against Oakland, where he caught five passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns. In Week 8 against the Chargers, Gillmore reeled in five passes for 101 yards. Gillmore was having an extremely productive season, until he was sidelined for the year in Week 10 with an injury. Gillmore is back from his injury and is ready to compete in training camp, but does the same apply to one of his teammates?

Dennis Pitta has been a fan favorite in Baltimore, but many thought his career was over when they saw him go down with a major non-contact injury in Cincinnati. Pitta has proved us all wrong, and has worked all the way back from his injury. Pitta is Flacco’s favorite target, and no tight end on the roster will be able to match their chemistry. However, Pitta shows up to training camp with a lot of question marks. What kind of shape is he in? Will he be able to be the same player that he used to be? Can he stay on the field? No matter how well Pitta performs in training camp, those issues will surround him, and they could legitimately hurt his spot on the depth chart. The Dennis Pitta of old would be the starter on this team, but there is definitely skepticism about what the 2016 Pitta can be. Pitta sits at third on the depth chart as, while he doesn’t have the same potential that he used to, he still could be a contributor on this team.

Rounding out the depth chart is Maxx Williams. On most other teams, Williams would be starting, or pushing the starter for snaps. But as the Ravens are so loaded at tight end, he may fall to the bottom of the barrel. I am by no means saying that Williams is not as good as the other tight ends, in fact, quite the opposite. Williams has more potential than any tight end on the roster, but he is still raw. Williams only had 47 receiving yards last season, but he dominated the Big Ten in his two years at Minnesota. Williams could easily end training camp higher on the depth chart, but I think the Ravens will go with experience over potential at tight end. So once again, here’s how the competition will shake out.

Starter - Benjamin Watson

Second string - Crockett Gillmore

Third string - Dennis Pitta

Fourth string - Maxx Williams

Lastly, Nick Boyle will work his way into the mix once he serves his suspension. He will likely slide in at the bottom of the depth chart at that point, and will have to fight for snaps. Boyle may find it hard to get on the field this season, but look for him to move up the depth chart at training camp next year.