Ravens TE Mark Andrews is having his role evolve to playing some wide receiver

Last season one of the several young cornerstone players that broke for the Baltimore Ravens in their dominant 2019 campaign was tight end Mark Andrews who earned his first career Pro Bowl nod in just his second season by leading the team in targets (98), receptions (64), receiving yards (852) and touchdowns (10-most among all tight ends).

He was Baltimore’s top target in the passing game and established himself as one of the premier pass-catchers at the position. Heading into the 2020 season and his third year in the league he was still not in the conversation for the best player at his position. That title has been reserved for the likes of George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers and Travis Kelce of the reigning Superbowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

However, after the season opener where he recorded five catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which was likely the best catch of Week One that he plucked out of the air with one hand, Andrews is finally being viewed amongst the elite at his position and is well on his way to staking his claim as the best tight end in the league.

If you ask his quarterback and reigning league MVP, Lamar Jackson, he’s already at the top of the list in his eyes.

“Man, that guy’s Top 2, and he’s not 2,” said Jackson after the team’s 38-6 blowout victory over the Cleveland Browns.

The amount of success and level of dominance that Andrews is having so early in his professional career is truly amazing and almost astonishing considering he is still relatively new to the position after growing up lining up out wide as a receiver.

He played wide receiver at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, and was recruited to the University of Oklahoma to dominate on the outside. However, he made the transition to tight end at the advice of his coach Jay Novell III, now the Head Coach at Nevada, who saw the potential for him to be a force at the position considering his drive and rare blend of size and superb athleticism.

“I grew up playing outside receiver. I think as a big guy, being able to have that feel for the game and to learn things as my base layer was great for me. Just being able to feel myself in space and feel where to go,” Andrews said.

“But I think a lot of it is being able to feel things, and sometimes that can’t be learned. … A lot of getting open is deception – making a guy believe one thing and doing the other. And so, I think that’s one of the best things that I do.”

Andrews dedicated himself to making the position switch early on in his college career and blossomed into one of the best tight ends at the collegiate level during his three years with the Sooners. In his junior season, his production exploded, and he won the John Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end after recording career highs in receptions (62), receiving yards (958), and touchdowns (eight).

“Once I flipped my brain and decided I wanted to be a tight end and really invested into it, that’s when things started to click,” Andrews said. “It’s not a position where you can go out there and just kind of run around. It’s a tough position; it’s a unique position. But for me, it fits really well.”

Despite his accolades and monster stats that he racked up in college, Andrews still managed to fall to the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft where the Ravens scooped up him and his former Oklahoma teammate and franchise legacy Orlando Brown Jr and the rest is history that is still being written. They both earned starting roles as rookies and were teammates on the AFC Pro Bowl roster last season.

Andrews has already vastly outplayed his unheralded draft status and now he is beginning to get utilized in a similar fashion to how the Chiefs deploy Kelce. His role in the Ravens offense has expanded in his third season following the trade of Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason and the failure of a true tight end to emerge in training camp to take over the former first-round pick’s role at the third spot on the depth chart.

Against the Browns in the opener, Andrews played 71 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps which is a huge uptick from his 41 percent in his breakout season that marginally increased from 35 percent that he was on the field for as a rookie. Of his 42 snaps on Sunday, he spent 26 of them lined up at receiver which included 21 in the slot and five out wide.

“I love being outside,” Andrews said. “It’s something I’m really comfortable with. It’s starting to grow in this offense, me being outside more. I just think it creates more mismatches, defenses having to game-plan for that. [Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman] has done a great job of moving around and hiding some stuff.”

Kelce spends so much time lined up out wide or in the slot as a receiver in the Chiefs’ prolific passing attack that he is considered a tight end in name only at this point. While Andrews likely won’t see nearly as much action at either spot in Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme from week to week, he still fits the mold of the perfect modern-day tight end that is being treated like and classified as big-bodied receivers in today’s NFL with the number of matchup nightmares they can create and challenges they present defenses in the passing game.

Andrews used this offseason to prepare his body for an expanded role heading into year three. He ran more and working on his condition so that he could improve his endurance to withstand a bigger workload on gamedays.

“In the back of my head, I knew that my role was going to grow. Third year being a tight end, it kind of naturally happens that way,” he said. “My body feels great. I felt great out there conditioning wise. I’m ready for it. I’m ready for the task. The more the better for me.”

While he enjoys bumping out into the slot and splitting out wide to run routes, he enjoys playing tight end and the strategic advantage as well as the multitude of different ways he can be used that comes with it. He excels at getting open against both man and zone coverage and has a niche for getting just enough separation in man or finding the perfect soft spot in zone to sit down in and provide his quarterback with an opportunity to score or at least move the chains.

“It’s definitely my bread and butter being able to get open and beat man, find a zone. I think I could do it, but I love being able to play tight end. I love being able to be versatile and maybe hide myself blocking and go out for a pass. That’s the beauty of tight end is you never know what they’re going to do or where they’re going to be. It’s a beautiful position.”

Andrews is still a receiver at heart and he even plays the tight end position like a wideout at times but while he’s not entirely sure how he’d fare if he made the switch back to receiver full time in the pros, he’s confident in his ability to succeed if he did.

“I don’t know. Probably pretty good,” Andrews said with a smirk when posed with the question.

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