Gillmore To Fellow Tight Ends: Enjoy The Bench
If there's a position on the Ravens roster that's massively deep, it's tight end.
But neither the competition, nor his injury history, has shaken Crockett Gillmore's confidence. He sent a bold message to his fellow tight ends.
"I don't want to come off the field. All downs, every down, and [I want to be] the guy," Gillmore told WNST's Luke Jones and Nestor Aparicio in Houston last week. "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."
Would they tell you the same thing?
"No," said Gillmore.
Saying the Ravens have nine tight ends is a slight exaggeration (there's six), but Gillmore's point is well taken. There are a lot, including Dennis Pitta, Benjamin Watson, Nick Boyle, Darren Waller and Maxx Williams.
Gillmore openly admits that he has more than a chip on his shoulder. He calls it a boulder, and says he enjoys carrying it.
Of course, there's a reason for the boulder and why people overlook his potential in a deep group. Gillmore's 2016 season was essentially lost due to injury (thigh). He played in five games and notched just eight receptions and one touchdown all year. He also finished the 2015 season on injured reserve after a back injury, and underwent shoulder surgery last offseason.
Even when Gillmore was finally healthy and taken off the injury report in Week 16 last season, the Ravens opted to activate Pitta, Boyle and Waller at tight end.
As Gillmore enters a contract year after being drafted by the Ravens in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, he is hoping to take what he's learned from last year's injury and prove to the Ravens – and the rest of the league – that he's capable of being a three-down tight end.
"It was the best injury I've ever had," Gillmore said. "I got to sit back. I got to learn. I got to change my attitude about what happens and what you can control and what you can't. I came back faster and stronger and healthier than ever [at the end of the season], and we were just short. I got to see the changes in myself as well as everything else that was going on. I really got to be ready to go.
"Honestly, I feel better than I ever have physically and I was ready to go. They make the decisions, but I was ready to go. That's all I could do. To be able to have the opportunity, that's all I could ask for."
Will Pitta Take A Pay Cut? How Many Tight Ends Will Ravens Keep?
Gillmore's chances of becoming "that guy" at tight end will be greatly impacted by the presence, or possible lack thereof, of veterans Pitta and Watson.
It'd be reeaaaaallly hard to give their reps to Gillmore if they're retained this offseason and healthy next year. Pitta led all NFL tight ends with 86 catches in 2016. And before Watson landed on injured reserve with an Achilles tear, he had a very strong 2015 season for the New Orleans Saints with 74 receptions for 825 yards and six touchdowns.
They are both under contract next season, but their previous injuries and cap hits make them speculated potential cap casualties among the media. Pitta will count $7.7 million against the cap (sixth-highest on the team) and Watson will be $4 million.
Some wonder whether Pitta would be willing to take a pay cut.
"Pitta was amenable to taking a $4 million pay cut last year ($3 million of which he later recovered in incentives) because he didn't play in 2015 after having two hip surgeries," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "The question is whether Pitta would be open to doing that again after putting together a productive season.
"It's difficult to say whether the Ravens would cut Pitta if he didn't agree to a pay cut. Baltimore would gain $3.3 million in cap room (but take on $4.4 million in dead money) if it released Pitta. The Ravens could split the dead money into two seasons if they made him a June 1 cut."
Hensley says the Ravens may want to be patient with Watson until he gets to training camp to see how much he has left after Achilles surgery and turning 36 in December. The other four tight ends are all still on their rookie contracts, so there's little reason to cut any of them at such a low cost when they all show considerable potential.
Of the four younger tight ends, Hensley said the Ravens are "most excited" about Boyle because he has a "chance of becoming the best all-around tight end on the team." But Boyle has been suspended twice for using performance-enhancing substances.
Meanwhile, the entire group rarely stays healthy for a full season. As such, Hensley can envision the Ravens holding onto all of them.
"In projecting this position, it wouldn't be surprising if the Ravens brought back all six tight ends and added another as an undrafted free agent for spring workouts and training camp," he wrote. "Injuries always occur in the offseason, so it's always better to have too much depth than not enough. The tough decisions will come a week before the season opener in September, when the Ravens will only carry a maximum of four tight ends."
Ravens' Mock Drafts Are 'All Over The Place'
If you checked out Garrett Downing's compilation of all the prospects mocked to the Ravens in the 2017 NFL Draft, you'd notice how little consistency there was.
Of the 11 projections, only one prospect was named twice: UCLA outside linebacker Takkarist McKinley.
It's easy to understand why. It's early and analysts haven't spoken much with team insiders. Besides, Baltimore doesn't even have its own draft board set. As Downing reported yesterday, Ravens scouts from around the country have converged on Baltimore this week to discuss about 500 college prospects and build the foundation of the draft board.
The NFL Scouting Combine, pro days and player visits to various team headquarters still need to occur.
But even with more time, The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec expects the mock drafts to continue to be "all over the place" for the Ravens.
"I suspect it's going to be one of the years where the projections remain all over the map right up until draft day on April 27," wrote Zrebiec. "Ravens' fans tire of hearing in the days leading up to the draft that the team will take the best-player available. In recent years, the Ravens have primarily taken the best-player available at one of their primary two or three positions of need.
"This year, the Ravens have five or six main needs, depending on what they do in free agency. A case could be made that their biggest need is a cornerback, but you'll find just as many people who believe a pass rusher is an even bigger hole."
It wouldn't be surprising if they addressed outside linebacker, inside linebacker, receiver, offensive line, safety or even running back.
"Again, you get the point," wrote Zrebiec. "There is a lot of uncertainty about the Ravens' pick and there will continue to be because of their myriad needs."
Good News About 2017 Draft: It's Very Deep
However the Ravens choose to use their No. 16 overall pick, there's a good chance they can grab an immediate impact player.
TheMMQB.com's Albert Breer is already comparing this year's class to the 2014 draft, which churned out Pro Bowlers like Houston pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, Oakland pass rusher Khalil Mack, Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans, Minnesota pass rusher Anthony Barr, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Dallas guard Zack Martin, Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley, Oakland quarterback Derek Carr and many others.
That was in stark contrast to the 2013 draft class, which had more top-10 picks switch teams (three) than Pro Bowlers (one).
The good news is the 2017 class is "pretty damn close" to that of 2014, says Breer.
"Depth-wise, it's great," an AFC executive told Breer. "What I like about it is, if we do our job, and have faith in our scouts, we can get starters into the fifth round."
"It's a very good draft," added a top personnel executive for an NFC team. "If you're in a position like Cleveland is with a lot of picks—and you still gotta pick the right guys—but it's an excellent draft. Very deep across the board."