The Ravens’ tight ends aren’t triplets, but they act like it around the team’s locker room.
“Always messing with each other, always around each other,” Hayden Hurst said, describing his relationship with Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle. “If somebody strays off and does something by themselves, they get reprimanded.”
The NFL’s most productive and versatile tight end trio is a major reason why Baltimore has the league’s highest-scoring team (33.3 points per game) heading into Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans.
Andrews (44 catches, 523 yards) is one of the league’s best pass-caching tight ends with a chance for a 1,000-yard season. Hurst (18 catches, 176 yards, one touchdown) is a 2018 first-round draft choice who has caught at least one pass in every game this season, including some clutch third-down grabs that have kept drives alive.
Then there’s Boyle, widely regarded as the league’s premier blocking tight end, who his finally getting his props as a pass-catcher. Boyle has already set his career high in receiving yards (21 catches, 250 yards), and when he finally scored his first career touchdown against the New England Patriots in Week 9, the entire team launched into celebration.
Andrews, Hurst and Boyle have the talent to succeed in any offense, but in the attack designed by Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, the tight ends have become more lethal.
Roman loves using tight ends to create mismatches. The first play of Sunday’s game in Cincinnati was a perfect example. All three tight ends were in the formation – Boyle to the right, Andrews to the left and Hurst in motion from left to right.
A three tight-end look is often used by teams to provide extra blocking on a running play, or to make it easier for quarterbacks to find an intermediate passing target. However, instead of running or throwing to a tight end on the game’s first play, the Ravens helped create a decoy with the three tight-end look and went deep. Bengals safety Jessie Bates III dropped down to cover Andrews and the Bengals were burned. Lamar Jackson connected with wide receiver Marquise Brown for a 49-yard completion that started the rout over Cincinnati with a bang.
Because their tight ends are so versatile, the Ravens feel comfortable running any play in Roman’s massive playbook, regardless of which tight ends are in the game. If they need Hurst to throw a block, so be it. If they need Boyle to run an effective pass route, he can.
Of Jackson’s 2,036 yards passing this year, 949 yards have been caught by the tight ends. That’s 46.6 percent of the passing offense going through tight ends. It’s another way that Baltimore’s offense differs from most, but it’s also effective.
“When you have the tight ends that we have, they’re going to get open,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “The more they get open, the more you have for them. And the way the game is set up, the way our offense is set, we have a lot of multiple-tight end formations. So, we have, probably, more tight ends on the field than anybody. Two tight ends, three tight ends, four tight ends are on the field at times, if you count Pat [Ricard] as a tight end. So, it just makes sense mathematically that they would have a lot of yards.”
Roman pushes back a little when he hears how much he loves tight ends. He hears it a lot from the tight ends themselves.
“They like to get that out there, don’t they?” Roman said wryly, drawing laughter from the media. Roman coached the team’s tight ends the past two years before taking over as offensive coordinator this season. So he knows the group extremely well, and how to utilize their different strengths to create mismatches.
“Our three tight ends are playing well,” Roman said. “They’re all young guys, relatively speaking, and we look forward to them continuing to improve and make an impact. We’re going to always utilize our personnel, however that is. They give us some flexibility that other teams might not have.”
Boyle deserves credit for being a mentor to Andrews and Hurst when they joined the team last year. The Ravens doubled-down on the tight end position in the 2018 draft, taking Hurst in the first round and Andrews in the third. Boyle could have perceived them as threats, both to his playing time and importance to the team. Instead, Boyle helped Andrews and Hurst adapt more quickly, while continuing to improve as a player.
“That’s the NFL for you,” said Boyle, who was re-signed to a three-year deal this offseason. “The Ravens were trying to improve the position group. Fortunately, I’m still here today. They’ve made the team better. They’ve helped make me better, and we’re all close. It’s been a blessing.”
Hurst says he’s become a better blocker watching Boyle. Boyle says he’s become a better route runner watching Andrews and Hurst.
That’s how the Ravens’ tight ends roll. They help each other, look out for one another. Andrews had six catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals last week, but he left the locker room quickly after the game before most of the media arrived. Why? Because Andrews wanted the spotlight to be on Boyle, who had four catches for a season-high 78 yards.
“We're super competitive, yes,” Andrews said. “(But) it's definitely a healthy competition. It's always who's running the fastest in practice and stuff like that, just stuff that will get us going. But we all root for each other, and we all want each other to do well. If someone scores, if someone makes a big catch, we couldn't be happier.”
Any of the Ravens’ tight ends could potentially have more targets and better stats, playing for another team where they were clearly the No. 1 tight end. But they’d rather have it this way – winning games and giving the opponents a variety of tight end looks to prepare for. Andrews and Boyle have a case to make the Pro Bowl this season, but Andrews’ is focus on helping his tight end trio and the Ravens reach the Super Bowl.
“I just want to get better and get to our goals and achieve our goals for this season,” Andrews said. “This team could be special, so if every guy on this team is focused on what we have ahead, we're going to be alright.
“We kind of knew the deal with G-Ro (Roman). He loves his tight ends. And having Nick, Hayden and myself – we're all so versatile, and we're able to do so much. It's really hard for teams to game plan for three different tight ends. It's fun to be able to play with those guys.”