Baltimore's No. 2 Receiver Spot Less Important Thanks to TEs Pitta and Dickson

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVJune 20, 2013

Who needs Anquan Boldin when you've got two talented tight ends?
Who needs Anquan Boldin when you've got two talented tight ends?USA TODAY Sports

When the Baltimore Ravens traded Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers following a contract dispute, the question became who would take up his spot as the team's No. 2 receiver.

Boldin's three seasons with the Ravens saw him become a valuable member of the team's offense, providing a reliable playmaking target for quarterback Joe Flacco, especially in the Ravens' recent playoff run and Super Bowl win. To replace him, they either needed to have full confidence in another of their own receivers or find a new one, either via free agency or the draft.

However, the Ravens opted to not bring on a free agent nor to take a rookie receiver with a high draft pick (they spent a seventh-rounder on Aaron Mellette). The prevailing thought was that receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones would be moved up to the No. 2 spot, with Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson battling to make names for themselves in the rotation (Thompson, in particular, has received a good deal of praise this offseason).

The fact that the Ravens chose not to significantly add to their pool of receivers made it seem like those currently on the roster satisfy their needs. But really, the decision may have not been based on the talent of their receivers but rather the skills of their two tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

Pitta, in particular, has every opportunity to shine this year. In the 2012 regular season, Pitta was targeted nearly as much as Boldin and wideout Torrey Smith, with 93 passes thrown his way compared to 110 for Smith and 112 for Boldin. His 61 total receptions were just four short of Boldin's 65 and above Smith's 49, and while his yardage was much lower than both receivers' totals, his seven touchdowns were one less than Smith's eight and greater than Boldin's four. 

Dickson was less involved in 2012, with just 33 regular-season targets and 21 receptions for 225 yards and no scores. But in 2011, he had 54 catches on 85 targets for 528 yards and five touchdowns, proving that he's not incapable of handling a greater workload. 

Another indication that the No. 2 receiver position isn't as troubling to the Ravens as it is for observers is how much Flacco and Pitta have worked together in this year's OTAs and minicamps. John Eisenberg of notes that Pitta has become Flacco's favorite target this offseason, and it's not difficult to assume that will continue once the 2013 season begins.

What the Ravens need isn't necessarily a No. 2 receiver who can do the heavy lifting, but another deep threat to pair with Smith. The chains-moving catches that produce first downs can be the province of the tight ends while Smith and Jones (or Doss or Thompson, depending how the rest of the summer plays out) handle passes 20 or more yards down the field.

That increases the roles of the tight ends while decreasing that of the so-called No. 2 wideout, which is particularly beneficial to someone like Jones, who flourishes only when he's not asked to do too much, or Doss, who needs to gain experience before he's considered a consistently reliable option for Flacco.

Also, a turn to a two tight end-heavy passing offense wouldn't be surprising considering the successes the New England Patriots have had employing the same system with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. In 2012, despite Hernandez and Gronkowski both missing time with injuries, they still accounted for 106 of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's 401 completions. Add in the catches made by just one receiver, Wes Welker, and the three combined for 224 of Brady's completions. 

Smith and Jones combined for 95 receptions for the Ravens in 2012. With (presumably) Jones' role increasing, it's more than possible the two could match the catch production of Welker's 2012 in 2013, leaving Pitta and Dickson available to fill out the numbers, much as Hernandez and Gronkowski have done in New England. 

Based on how the Ravens have handled this offseason and their No. 2 receiver position—including refuting claims that they may pursue a veteran free agent later in the summer as roster cuts begin around the league—and it looks like it's not the priority position we first thought it was.

Instead of having a workhorse in the Boldin model take up the job, they can have someone more marginal and specialized, like Jones, in the No. 2 spot without worrying about overall offensive production, thanks to the fortunate situation of having two highly capable receiving tight ends in their starting lineup.