AFC North: Jimmy Graham

I wrote an earlier post that included ESPN NFL analyst Matt Williamson’s take on what defines a No. 1 pass catcher as part of a larger argument for the Steelers drafting a tall receiver.

What is interesting to note is that tight ends Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are among the players Williamson thinks are bona fide No. 1 receivers.

Williamson followed that piece with one on potential No. 1 receivers, a mix that includes wide receivers and tight ends and players who are already in the NFL as well as ones who will be drafted next month.

Seventh on his list is North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron Insider.

The 6-4, 250-pound Ebron would qualify as a tall receiver and his production and athleticism in college -- he caught 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns last season -- make him the No. 1 tight end in the draft

Here is what Williamson wrote about Ebron:
While Ebron lacks the height and bulk of Graham or Rob Gronkowski, he might possess better pure speed. This guy can truly stretch the field like few NFL tight ends. Ebron is fluid and smooth, but he also has an instant acceleration burst. He is versatile in terms of his alignment on the field and should be an instant-impact tight end, as he is noticeably above average in all receiving categories for an incoming prospect.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has projected Ebron going between picks 12 and 18 next month, which would put him in the range of where the Steelers are drafting. What makes Ebron intriguing for the Steelers is he could help right away given the increasing frequency with which teams use two-tight end sets and also give them Heath Miller’s eventual replacement.

Former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik wrote that tight end is a hidden need for the Steelers, which is why he thinks Ebron could be an option Insider for them.

Here is what Dominik, an ESPN Front Office Insider, wrote:
Heath Miller is still a very talented player, and he is a great fit in the Steelers’ offense. However, he will turn 32 this season, and the team needs to find a big-bodied tight end via the draft so Ben Roethlisberger can begin building trust in him. They’ll need a young tight end to take over as their primary target at the position in the near future. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, the consensus top tight end in this year’s draft, could be in play for the Steelers at No. 15 overall if he’s still on the board.

Also of note from Williamson’s story on future No. 1 receivers is he has LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. fifth on his list -- three spots ahead of Texas A&M’s Mike Evans.

The 5-11, 198-pound Beckham doesn’t have great size but he makes up for it in other areas, writes Williamson:
He gets separation with the more technical intermediate routes, as well as just using his pure ability to run past defensive backs. Beckham is also a good return man and excels with the ball in his hands. I think I'm actually higher on Beckham than most others, but expect him to make an instant impact in the NFL. I could see Beckham landing in Pittsburgh, Kansas City or Carolina in Round 1.

Kiper has the Steelers taking Beckham No. 15 overall in the Grade A Mock Draft he released last week. The mock draft is one in which Kiper’s picks are based on what he thinks teams should do in the first three rounds of the draft.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta made a compelling argument Wednesday on why the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham shouldn't be penalized for being given the franchise tag for a tight end rather than a wide receiver.

"He gets labeled as a tight end, and for whatever reason, that somehow decreases his value," Pitta said after signing his five-year, $32 million contract. "I don’t understand that part of it. I think he’s been a top producer in this league, certainly on his team, [and] led his team in catches, yards, touchdowns. Why all of a sudden, because he’s labeled as a tight end, does that devalue his stock?"

Pitta
Even though you would expect a tight end to support one of his peers, it's strange that Pitta spoke out so strongly about this. Pitta's new contract averages $6.4 million per season, which is in line with the franchise tag for a tight end ($7 million) and not a wide receiver ($12.3 million). The deal he signed suggests Pitta agrees with the current value of tight ends.

Pitta ended up with $16 million guaranteed, which is a good chunk of money for a tight end, but it's only $4 million more than what he would've earned in one season if he successfully won a grievance to be tagged as a receiver. Perhaps this is a case where Pitta believes tight ends should get paid more like receivers but he wasn't confident others would feel the same way.

"More power to [Graham], I think it’s something that he should challenge because it's not right that he can catch more touchdowns and more yards than maybe someone who is classified as a wide receiver, yet because he has that tight end label, now all of a sudden his value is cut in half," Pitta said.

Here are some other takeaways from Pitta's news conference:
  • Pitta feels fortunate to sign this type of a deal only seven months after having emergency surgery on his hip. "There were a few weeks after my surgery when I didn't know if I would play football again, which is a tough pill to swallow," Pitta said. "To be able to sit here now, to have an opportunity to be on the field and be with this team for a few more years to come, it's a blessing."
  • There will be no Joe Flacco-like celebration for Pitta after signing his deal. “I probably won't go to McDonald's after this," said Pitta, alluding to the fact that Flacco stopped for some McNuggets after reaching his $120.6 million deal a year ago before adding, "No, I didn't get Joe Flacco money, so he will still be paying for dinners."
  • Pitta acknowledged he wasn't at full strength when he returned in December. "I didn't have any pain and I felt good playing, but kind of that quickness and that explosion wasn't all the way back, which was expected," Pitta said. "Typically, you don’t regain that in four months after surgery, and so that’s something that I continue to work on, and I've been training and trying to get that to 100 percent, which I'm close.”
  • There are plans for Flacco to meet with the receivers and tight ends before the team officially begins its offseason program. "I know that's something Joe wants to get done," Pitta said. "He wants to be able to meet with us and kind of get on the same page and go over some of the new things that we're going to be doing. So, I'm sure we’ll get that ironed out in the next few weeks.”



Take a guess who's the favorite target for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco after two games. Torrey Smith? Anquan Boldin? Ed Dickson?

Wrong on all three. The Ravens' leading receiver is tight end Dennis Pitta. He has four more catches than anyone else on the team, has just as many 20-yard catches as Smith and has more than double the amount of first downs as Boldin.

In 2010, Pitta was the 114th player selected overall and seventh tight end taken in the draft, behind the likes of Jermaine Gresham (21st overall), Rob Gronkowski (42), Dickson (70), Tony Moeaki (93), Jimmy Graham (95) and Aaron Hernandez (113).

Pitta's 138 yards receiving this year ranks fourth among tight ends, three more than Gronkowski.

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