Ravens top five position battles to watch for in training camp: No.3 Tight End edition

The Baltimore Ravens are among the teams with most continuity in the entire league with the immense amount of carryover on both the roster and the coaching staff from last year’s squad that finished with a franchise-record 14-2 record in the regular season. They will be returning nearly all of their starters on offense and defense from 2019, yet there will be a handful of starting spots and key roles up for grabs in training camp that is set to being at the end of the month.

With the offseason having been condensed by the COVID-19 pandemic, veteran players with a year or more of experience in the Baltimore’s system or the league, in general, might have the early advantage over some of the rookies that they will be competing against.

However, several Ravens coaches have been raving about the incredible metal aptitude of their rookies both drafted and undrafted in virtual meetings and can’t wait to get them on the field so nobody should be counted out at this point and there could be some first-year players that close the gap and pull ahead quicker than anticipated even given the abnormally adverse circumstances that have proceeded their inaugural seasons in the league.

Here is the fourth edition of a five-part series breaking down the top five position battles that will take place in training camp and the preseason—if there is one:

No.3 Tight End-

The Ravens benefited from having the deepest and most talented group of tight ends in the league last season with 2019 breakout star Mark Andrews who was voted to his first Pro Bowl, run-blocking extraordinaire Nick Boyle and former first-round pick Hayden Hurst. Their surplus at the position allowed them to flip Hurst in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons for the second-round pick that they used to select dynamic running back J.K. Dobbins out of Ohio State who has the potential to be the future featured back in the Baltimore’s backfield.

Since the tight end position is one that is heavily and frequently used in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s system where he deploys multiple tight end sets in several different formations, Hurst’s departure left a void at a vital position on the depth chart.

The third-string tight end on most teams rarely ever see the field outside of garbage time late in games, certain special teams plays or in the event of an injury, but in Baltimore that player would see the field quite a bit and will need to able to handle a sizable workload even if that means that they won’t be catching the ball on most plays.

The tight end crop in this year’s rookie class was viewed as on of the weakest during the pre-draft process and the fact that the Ravens elected not to use any of their 10 picks on a player at the position reflects that. However, they did sign a pair of rookie tight ends in undrafted free agency in Jacob Breeland out of Oregon and Eli Wolf out of Georgia to come in and compete for the third and likely final tight end spot.

Breeland has emerged as the early front runner since he likely would’ve been drafted had he not suffered a knee injury that cut his senior season short. Before he went down, Breeland was on pace for a huge year with 26 receptions for career highs in receiving yards (405) and touchdowns (six) in just six games. He’d help offset the loss of Hurst in the pass-catching department, but he needs some work as a run blocker which he can get coached up on once he gets in the building and on the field

Wolf’s playing style most resembles Boyle’s in the sense that he’s more dominant as a blocker than as a pass catcher, but he possesses underrated athleticism that could make him a factor with the ball in his hands if given the opportunity. The former Bulldog didn’t receive an invite to the Scouting Combine but that didn’t stop him from clocking a blazing hand-timed 4.43 in the 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds during private Pro Day since the pandemic caused Georgia to cancel theirs. Boyle has been an often overlooked underneath target in the Ravens’ passing attack known for his leaping ability when he occasional hurdles defenders that dive at his legs and Wolf could blossom in a similar do-it-all role.

A third dark horse candidate is Charles Scarff who was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Delaware last year. While he didn’t make the final 53-man roster coming out of camp, he was signed to the practice squad where spent his entire rookie season. Scarff had a quiet preseason in 2019, hauling in just two receptions for 27 yards in the fourth and final exhibition tilt, however, he still has a shot to make the cut and has a slight advantage over the two newbies since he’s already spent a year with the team and in his playbook, whereas Breeland and Wolf have yet to even get sized for their helmets let alone step foot on the practice field as Ravens.

It will truly be an open competition, and no one should be counted out or overlooked in the running. The Ravens have had an undrafted rookie make the final 53 for 16 straight seasons and there’s a good chance of that streak getting extended this year despite the lack of an in-person offseason program or the possibility of fewer or no preseason games. All that means is that all the candidates will have to make the most of their reps in practice and try to stack enough good days to make them stand out in the eyes of the coaching staff.

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