Are the Ravens over-investing at the tight end position?
One of the biggest surprises from the Ravens’ draft was their decision to double-dip at the tight end position. Many anticipated them selecting a tight end on Day 3 of the draft to add a pass-catching element behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle on the depth chart.
They did this with the No. 128 pick in the fourth round, which they used to draft Charlie Kolar out of Iowa State. Then, only 11 picks later, they took Isaiah Likely out of Costal Carolina. NBC Sports’ Peter King has since reported that the Ravens sought to draft Memphis WR Calvin Austin III at that spot but pivoted to Likely after the Pittsburgh Steelers snagged Austin off the board just one pick before.
So, maybe taking two tight ends wasn’t in their original plans, but obviously they felt Likely was too enticing of a talent to pass up despite having already drafted Kolar. Both Kolar and Likely were solid mid-round prospects after accomplished collegiate careers.
At Iowa State, Kolar scored 23 touchdowns in four seasons and posted over 2,000 receiving yards. He was named First-Team All-Big 12 three times. At Costal Carolina, Likely similarly had over 2,000 yards receiving and 20+ touchdowns over four years. In 2021, he caught a career-best 59 receptions for 922 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The additions of both players give the Ravens a versatile and deep tight end room. Andrews is already established as an All-Pro talent and Boyle, at full strength, is a premier blocking player at the position. Likely and Kolar will presumably bump Josh Oliver out of the mix on the depth chart.
We know Greg Roman, perhaps more than any other offensive coordinator, loves to utilize tight ends in his scheme. In 2019, a huge component of the Ravens ’historic offensive success was the three-headed monster of Andrews, Boyle and Hayden Hurst. Based on them drafting Kolar and Likely, it seems they may be trying to replicate this formula.
The question begs, though, are the Ravens over-investing at the position?
They may have the best tight end in football in Andrews, and now probably have the overall deepest tight end room from top-to-bottom. This is a plus. However, they’ve now devoted quite a bit of draft capital and cap space at the position as a result – perhaps at the expense of some other areas.
In 2022, Andrews has a cap hit just shy of $ 10 million – a number that will increase by a sizeable amount beginning next year. Boyle’s cap hit for 2022 is $ 7 million. The Ravens also just re-signed Patrick Ricard, whose technically a “fullback” but often acts as an in-line tight end for the Ravens, to a three-year deal. His 2022 cap hit is just over $ 2 million.
So, not any one of the team’s tight ends is accounting for a huge percentage of the overall salary cap this upcoming season. However, the accumulation of these three and now factoring in two fourth-round picks, it’s worth wondering if the Ravens can get an adequate return on these investments.
Let’s assume that these five guys are ultimately on the Ravens ’53-man roster: Andrews, Boyle, Ricard, Kolar and Likely. That’s one more tight end than the Ravens rostered last year. Could this be at the expense of carrying an extra cornerback, wideout or offensive lineman, which are considered more “premium” positions?
The possibilities for deploying all of these guys on the field is plentiful. Expect a heavy dose of two-tight end sets often with Ricard on the field at the same time. But, just how often the rookies can really see the field in 2022 remains to be seen.
Kolar and Likely are talented pass-catchers and can compliment Andrews well, but their addition only makes a strength even stronger. In subtracting their No. 1 wide receiver, Marquise Brown, and adding two tight ends, is that an upgrade to the Ravens’ passing game? Or, would one of those draft picks be better used on a wideout?
They’ve built maybe the best tight end room in football. At the same time, at least on paper currently, they have a bottom-tier wide receiver group. Maybe these two are mutually exclusive, but in today’s NFL, most teams would probably prefer the former.
The Ravens have never shied from zigging when other teams zag, so this development doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Regardless, their allocations at the tight end position make for an interesting discussion point. This is not meant to be an overreaction or declarative statement, but more to play devil’s advocate, so to speak, and open up a dialogue.