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Who Will Replace Anquan Boldin?

Posted Mar 17, 2013

The Ravens could turn to tight end Dennis Pitta in the slot, and also look to young talent.

Veteran Anquan Boldin was the top target for quarterback Joe Flacco the last three seasons.

But now Boldin is gone after getting dealt to San Francisco, leaving the Ravens with a big hole at wide receiver. 

So who’s going to replace him?

One option is to put tight end Dennis Pitta in the slot, using him in a role similar to what Boldin has played the last couple seasons.

“Well certainly Pitta has done a really good job,” said former NFL general manager and current NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly. “I think that’s an area that could be utilized more going into the future and be just as productive in that role as a go-to guy who can move the chains.”

Over the last two seasons, Pitta has emerged as primarily a pass-catching tight end with great hands and the ability to haul in catches in traffic. He had 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns last year, compared to Boldin’s 65 catches for 921 yards and four touchdowns.

Like Boldin, Pitta excels at working the middle of the field to find the soft spots in the defense. The Ravens have experimented with him in the slot in the past, as he played receiver for two games in 2011 when Boldin was out with a knee injury. He had six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown during that stretch. Pitta also played some wide receiver during his college career at BYU.

Regardless of whether Pitta lines up at tight end or receiver, he is a likely candidate to take Boldin’s spot as Flacco’s go-to target when the Ravens need to pick up a key first down.

“Pitta can do that,” Casserly said. “There’s no question about that.”

With Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones on the roster, the Ravens already have speedy wide receivers to work the edge, allowing Pitta and some of the other young receivers to work the middle of the field.

“When you look at the receiver corps, speed is certainly a big issue there that they’ve got now,” Casserly sad. “They’re faster now than they were a couple years ago.”

In addition to Pitta, the Ravens also have young receivers who have been waiting for an opportunity to get on the field.

Tandon Doss, a 2011 fourth-round pick out of Indiana, has shown promise in his limited opportunities the last two seasons. He finished last season with seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, and the Ravens have high hopes for him.

Second-year receiver Deonte Thompson is also another option. He came to Baltimore as an undrafted free agent last year and caught the attention of coaches in training camp with his blazing speed and big-play ability. 

Thompson opened the season as the team’s starting kick returner, but then Jones took over the job and Thompson struggled to get back on the field. He was inactive for every game after Week 5.

“Tandon Doss is a good, young prospect,” Casserly said. “You’ve got Deonte Thompson who is an explosive-type receiver. So you’ve got some guys there to work with.”

The Ravens could also look to add another player to the mix through the draft or free agency. The Ravens may look to make a late signing, similar to what they did last year with Jones.

Drafting a receiver is an option, although Casserly expects the Ravens to go with defense early. 

“I don’t think [wide receiver is] a primary concern,” he said. “I think they’ve got bigger needs, with the inside of that defense and at the safety position. I think if they can add one, that would certainly be good to get some more competition in the mix because they have some inexperience there in trying to replace Boldin.”

Whoever the Ravens end up using to replace Boldin, Casserly emphasized that part of the responsibility will fall on Flacco to make up for Boldin’s absence. He is the franchise quarterback and getting paid as such, and  it’s on him to carry the offense no matter who is playing receiver.

“From an overall point of view,” Casserly said, “paying Flacco puts you in position to a degree, like Indianapolis [with Peyton Manning] and New England, that you’re going to be a quarterback-driven offensive team.”

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