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Eisenberg: Ravens Tight Ends Would Make A Good Reality TV Show


OK, so this is off the wall, and maybe I just spent too much time in the sun over the long, crazy-warm holiday weekend, but I've found myself thinking the Ravens' collection of tight ends would make a pretty good reality TV show.

For interesting stories and compelling narrative, you could do a lot worse than "Real Tight Ends of Baltimore."

On most NFL teams, a production crew hunting for reality-show drama would head straight for the big-money quarterback or the high-strung wide receivers screeching for attention. Outside of New England's outlandish Rob Gronkowski, tight ends usually are bit players who blend into the background.

But there's quite a storyline developing among the six, yes, six tight ends currently on the Ravens' roster as the front office begins drawing up plans for 2017.

You've got Dennis Pitta, a veteran who authored one of the NFL's best comeback stories in 2016 when he returned from a pair of career-threatening hip injuries to lead the league in receptions at his position.

You've got Benjamin Watson, a commanding locker room elder coming back from a devastating Achilles injury that stopped his first season in Baltimore before it started.

You've got the gen-next guys, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and Darren Waller, all drafted since 2015, all promising, yet all already scarred by setbacks. Williams, a second-round pick, barely played in 2016 because of a knee injury. Boyle, a fifth-round pick, missed 10 games due to a PED suspension. Waller, a sixth-round pick, missed four for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Finally, there's Crockett Gillmore, a 2014 third-round pick whose last two seasons have been undermined by various injuries that included a broken back. He recently ratcheted up the positional stakes and tensions with strong comments in a Super Bowl week interview with WNST.

"I don't want to come off the field. All downs, every down, (be) the guy," Gillmore said. "There's no reason I shouldn't be. There's no reason I can't be. That's great we have nine tight ends. They're going to enjoy the bench. That's just reality. I'll tell them. They know."

His sentiments introduced that element of uncertainty that drives reality-show storytelling. No NFL team keeps six tight ends.  The Ravens like their guys, but difficult decisions loom. I don't want to get too lighthearted about it with jobs and careers at stake, but to quote from the reality-show dictionary, some tight ends are going to get handed roses and others are going to get voted off.

The big, underlying question is what, exactly, do the Ravens want from their tight ends in 2017? Downfield plays? Better blocking? Chain-moving grabs? The answer could determine a lot.

There were so many injuries and prolonged absences in 2016 that it was hard to maintain a philosophy at the position. Basically, if you were a tight end, reasonably healthy and available, you got snaps.

It was fun to watch Pitta stay healthy and resume his connection with Joe Flacco. But his average of 8.6 yards per catch was down from prior seasons in which he stayed healthy, and the coaches tended to look elsewhere for run-game blocking.

Now, Head Coach John Harbaugh has hired a new coach for the tight ends, Greg Roman, who happens to be a run-game expert. After setting a franchise record for fewest rushing attempts in a season in 2016, the Ravens seem intent on improving their running game and overall offensive balance. If that bodes well for tight ends known for blocking, I like Boyle's chances of securing a role. Watson and Gillmore also are "plus" blockers.

But the Ravens also want speed and passing-game production at tight end. Waller and Williams have shown flashes of big-play potential. Pitta moved the chains, made plays and recently told my colleagues Garrett Downing and Ryan Mink on "The Lounge" podcast that he expects even bigger things in 2017.

As always, salary-cap considerations are involved. Pitta currently is projected to rank among the Ravens' highest-paid players in 2017. Watson also has a healthy cap figure. There's no telling how that might factor into any decision-making.

Right now, pretty much anything is possible on "Real Tight Ends of Baltimore." There's going to be drama. It's just beginning.

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