Top five things Ravens need to do during bye week: Sign or trade for a third TE
The Baltimore Ravens are heading into their bye week with a near-perfect record of 5-1 even though they have played far from flawless to achieve it on both sides of the ball but especially on offense as of late.
The stretch run to what they hope will end with an all-expense-paid trip for a chance to play for the franchise’s third championship on the first Sunday in February 2021 won’t be easy.
Here are is one of the top five things they need to do during their week off to give themselves their best chances of getting to Tampa represent the AFC in Superbowl 55:
Sign or trade for a third tight end
The Ravens boasted the league’s deepest, most talented, and most versatile tight end group last season. They possessed a trio of starting-caliber players at the position.
While Mark Andrews was the only one to earn his first career Pro Bowl nod, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst were integral parts of what made Baltimore’s record-shattering offense so explosive both in the running and passing game.
Baltimore mutually agreed to trade Hurst, who desired to be in a more featured role as a pass-catcher, to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for the second-round selection that eventually became rookie running back J.K. Dobbins who has already looked dangerously dynamic in limited opportunities.
At the time it was looked at as yet another brilliant move by General Manager Eric DeCosta who turned a player at a position of surplus into high draft capital and was able to get essentially equal value for the former late first-round pick after two years of contributions.
However, through the early part of this season, it appears that the Ravens have either underestimated the value of Hurst in the third tight role or overestimated their ability to effectively replace him because while it isn’t top the same extent or magnitude as losing Yanda, his presence has been sorely missed.
The Ravens decided not to pick up a tight end in the draft which was understandable considering this year’s crop was widely viewed as one of the weaker position groups. They picked up a pair of undrafted rookies at the position with potential, but injuries prohibited either of them from seizing the job.
The only two tight ends left standing on the roster when training camp ended were Andrews and Boyle and that has been the same pair that they have carried into every game this season.
Converted defensive lineman turned Pro Bowl fullback, Patrick Ricard, has assumed more of a role in the passing game and is on pace for career highs in targets, yards, and receptions.
However, not having a third tight end active on game days has limited the offense from a schematic standpoint.
As improved as Ricard has become catching the ball and he even spends most of his time in the tight end meeting room, not having a threat like Hurst who was a dangerous and explosive receiver as well as an underrated run blocker who can get to the second level to make blocks in the run game faster than a fleet-footed but still 311-pound Ricard has handicapped the passing game especially.
Jackson doesn’t have as many wide-open windows to throw into like he did during his MVP campaign and while some on the team will attribute that to opposing teams rolling out Ravens-specific game plans each week, it can also be a result of them not having the same surplus of viable options in the passing game as he did last season with Hurst in the fold.
Three tight end sets were a huge part of Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme in his first year at the helm. It allowed the Ravens offense to be extremely unpredictable a keep opposing defenses off balance.
Any play out of those formations could have the potential to be a run or pass and break for big yardage whether it was because they had three extra blockers on the field or had three extra sets of hands attached to playmaking and tackle-breaking athletes.
As for what options the Ravens could turn to after the bye week, the two in-house options would be either promoting either Eli Wolf who one of the two aforementioned undrafted rookies, or fourth-year pro Sean Culkin who went undrafted out of Missouri in 2017 from the practice squad.
Wolf is an unproven commodity and yet to take a snap in an NFL game in any capacity since there was no preseason this year. Culkin has appeared in 18 career games and made 12 starts, all were with the Los Angeles Chargers, but he only has two career catches for 36 yards to show for it.
The options on the veteran free-agent market like Delanie Walker, Charles Clay, and Ed Dickson could likely be had for the veteran minimum and could possibly play pivotal roles in a similar fashion to the haul of vets that DeCosta signed during his early/mid-season remodel of the defense last year before the team went on a 12-game winning streak down the stretch.
A few trade avenues the Ravens might consider exploring would be acquiring former first-round pick David Njoku from Cleveland Browns or Evan Ingram from the New York Giants. Both players were selected in the first round of the 2017 draft and are gifted pass catchers who play like big-bodied receivers.
Njoku wants out of Cleveland because of his lack of playing time and involvement in the Browns’ offense. Even though he’s had issues with injuries in the past, he’d be perfect for the third tight role in the Ravens’ offense.
However, it’s unlikely this trade would come to fruition because division rivals rarely conduct business with each other and especially during the season.
Engram has flashed Pro Bowl potential in his career and could be on the trading block ahead of the deadline since the Giants are currently 1-5 and could be looking to accumulate more picks in the 2021 draft.
The most alluring factors for trading for either of these former first round picks is that they are both explosive young athletes at a position of need and will be under contract through next season since both of their fifth-year contract options were exercised this offseason.