The Ravens may have signed L.J. Smith this offseason to add depth alongside Todd Heap and Quinn Sypniewski, but that doesn't mean they are ruling out all tight ends in the draft.
Brandon Pettigrew, who is considered the top prospect at the position by most draft analysts, met with team officials Tuesday.
The Oklahoma State product was one of a few NFL-bound players milling around Ravens headquarters in Owings Mills, Md., this week, in fact.
Defensive ends Aaron Maybin of Penn State and Jovan Belcher from Maine also had visits.
Pettigrew is known as the best blocking tight end in the Class of 2009. At 6-foot-6, 263 pounds, he possesses tremendous size to block at the next level, something that is becoming scarce in the college game.
"He's just a big man with room in his frame to get even bigger," said Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz. "Blocking tight ends are become more and more of a rarity, especially coming out of college.
"More and more programs are running spread offenses, so the tight end is flexed out more like big slot receivers. He spent more time on the line of scrimmage than most at his position, which allowed him to develop more than other guys coming out."
But Pettigrew is not just about size. He has proven to be a reliable receiver over the middle of the field.
Over the last three years, Pettigrew amassed 101 receptions for 1,313 yards and eight touchdowns.
With his combination of skills, the Ravens could be tempted to select him their 26th-overall draft pick.
Some would ask why the Ravens might target a tight end. Heap is a former Pro Bowler. Smith, the former Philadelphia Eagle, comes to Baltimore with a reputation as a talented receiving target. And even though Sypniewski is coming off a severe knee injury, he has shown to be a stellar blocker when healthy.
"If he's the best player on the board and we're picking, it's always a possibility with the Ravens," Hortiz explained. "L.J. is a veteran, and so is Todd Heap. At some point, you have to get younger at the position - the question is when? If he's the best player available, why not? I don't think you should assume that we're not going to take a tight end by looking at our roster now."
The Ravens also could use depth at outside linebacker, where both Maybin and Belcher would project in Baltimore's versatile defense.
Maybin, who visited Owings Mills Wednesday, is regarded as a first-round candidate and would probably be gone by No. 26. A Maryland native, Maybin has incredible athleticism, running a 4.64-second 40-yard dash and jumping 40 inches in the vertical leap at his Pro Day workout.
While Maybin (6-foot-4, 249 pounds) did lead the Big Ten and finish seventh in the country with 12 sacks last season, however, he is also inexperienced, only starting 10 games in two seasons at Penn State.
"You maybe have to look into the future a little bit more on those guys," stated Hortiz. "They're not going to be as experienced as the guys that have started for a while, typically. The large majority of them don't have the reps at that position to do everything required of them. They may be really good at one thing, but they're not going to be sound in all phases of the game."
Another player that entered the league without much experience is Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs!(/team/roster/terrell-suggs/ad26be43-1380-45f1-b047-a91e850d9761/ "Terrell Suggs"). Baltimore selected him 10th overall in 2003 out of Arizona State as a 20-year-old pass rush specialist.
After basically only playing on third down his rookie season, Suggs has blossomed into one of the best all-around defenders in the league.
"Maybin would be in that Suggs role as a rush linebacker," Hortiz continued. "He had a very productive time at Penn State, even though he is a redshirt sophomore. With only one year as a starter, he'll need some development in technique. He competes from the beginning of the game to the end. He's always battling whether they're winning or losing."
Belcher, on the other hand, is a seasoned four-year starter. The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder projects to being a late-round selection or a priority free agent.
He was voted the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year as a senior after totaling 93 tackles and 7.5 sacks, playing defensive end his final year at Maine.
"You see him on film, and on every play he's running to make a play, whether that's trying to sack the quarterback or hustling 30 yards downfield trying to get to the ball," said Hortiz. "He's another really competitive player."
All NFL teams are allowed to bring in 30 players for official visits before the draft. **
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