Ravens can choose from good group of TEs

OWINGS MILLS – The time has probably arrived for the Baltimore Ravens to draft a tight end capable of eventually succeeding Todd Heap, a former Pro Bowl selection. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Ravens will have to expend their first-round draft selection and land a tight end with the 25th overall pick such as Jermaine Gresham or Rob Gronkowski.

It's one of the deepest drafts for tight ends in several years as far as overall quality.

So, the Ravens could conceivably acquire a potential future starter anywhere from the first round to the fifth round.

"If you look at it today, it's a good class," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end with the Cleveland Browns.

"Until they get on the field and play, it'll take us two to three years to make that determination. When you look at it, I could probably say this: There's probably a tight end that we could probably take in every round in this draft, and we would probably feel good about it."

The Ravens could definitely use someone to groom behind Heap, a 30-year-old who has battled back problems in recent years

Baltimore drafted Heap in 2001, and he was mentored by Shannon Sharpe for one season before taking over the job on a permanent basis.

The Ravens have minimal depth behind Heap with Edgar Jones and Davon Drew since Jones is expected to play fullback and special teams and Drew was on the practice squad for his rookie season.

If the Ravens choose to go for a tight end in the first round, Gresham and Gronkowski would represent something of a risk from a medical standpoint.

Gresham is an imposing former basketball player at 6-foot-5, 261 pounds who missed all of last season with a cartilage problem that required microfracture surgery.

The Oklahoma standout is also not regarded as a mauling blocker by any stretch of the imagination, but is a gifted pass-catcher.

"I want to be everything," Gresham said during the NFL scouting combine. "I want to be the greatest player, if not one of the greats, that played it. Hopefully, I can be a great blocker, great pass catcher, great route runner, everything.

"I want to be a complete tight end. I want to be on the field every down and I want to compete. I want to block, I want to catch. I want to do everything."

Gresham caught 66 passes for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Sooners in 2008, catching 11 touchdowns off the bench as a sophomore.

He has 4.71 speed in the 40-yard dash.

"There are a lot of things to like about Gresham because he has the size, strength, athleticism, hands and playing speed make big plays as a receiver and to be a solid blocker when he uses good technique," said Russ Lande, a former Browns scout who covers the draft for the Sporting News.

"He definitely looks the part. My biggest concern is that his upright playing style reminds me a little of Leonard Pope, who has struggled to become a good NFL player.

"Overall, Gresham has worked out well, easing concerns about the knee injury. I still am concerned about his long-term durability. If he's able to stay healthy, then he'll become a good starting tight end who makes plays as a receiver but will likely always be an inconsistent blocker. If he does not play more aggressively and with better technique in the NFL, then he will always struggle to play up to his natural talent level."

A first-team All-American selection, Gresham caught 111 career passes for 1,629 yards and 26 touchdowns.

"You can utilize him in a lot of ways," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr said. "You can line him up and get mismatches in coverage because he's so athletic. Basically, he's like a big wide receiver."

Gronkowski missed all of last season with a herniated lumbar disc and nerve damage that required a microdisectomy surgery where a disc sticking out on his spinal cord was shaved down.

The University of Arizona tight end proved recently that he has regained his running form, recording a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash for NFL scouts.

"They are going to get a tough, physical player who likes to do the dirty work and likes to make big plays down the field," said Gronkowski, who caught 47 passes for 672 yards and 10 touchdowns two years ago. "Being a true tight end, being able to block, being able to go out for passes, being able to catch the ball."

Gronkwoski seems to project better than Gresham as an all-around tight end and it's believed the Ravens have a pretty high grade on him.

There's a strong chance that either Gresham or Gronkowski could wind up with the Cincinnati Bengals with the 21st overall pick, four spots ahead of Baltimore.

"Both are big and strong enough to be inline tight ends and they can be H-backs or move guys," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "I don't usually talk about tight ends in the first round unless I think they can have some semblance of being a blocker, which both these guys can.

"They have the size and ability. They're not trained killers, but they understand leverage and they can block well enough to play tight end in the NFL."

Meanwhile, the Ravens have been exploring the possibility of several tight ends that could be available after the first round.

The Ravens hosted ultra-productive Oregon tight end Ed Dickson for a visit at their training complex.

Dickson is more of a receiving tight end than a blocker as the Ducks' all-time leader in every receiving category at his position with 124 catches for 1,557 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Dickson carries a second-round grade and has great hands and body control.

The Ravens brought in Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki for a visit. Moeaki is an aggressive, willing blocker with proven receiving capabilities.

However, he has dealt with a dislocated elbow, shoulder sprain, broken wrist, broken foot, hamstring, calf and a high ankle sprain..

Durability seems to be a bigger issue with Moeaki, who's graded anywhere from the second to fourth round, than most tight ends.

"I'd never been hurt in high school or my first two years at Iowa," Moeaki said. "I feel fresh and healthy now. If you erased my memory and woke me up, I wouldn't be able to tell you that I've been hurt before."

The Ravens have also displayed interest in Brigham Young tight end Dennis Pitta, an athletic player who's not considered a strong blocker.

Pitta tested extremely well at the NFL scouting combine, topping the list in several categories. He's the Cougars' all-time leading receiver with 221 receptions for 2,901 yards and 21 touchdowns, and set a record with 83 receptions two years ago.

The Ravens conducted private workouts with both University of Pittsburgh tight ends, Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham.

The two teammates couldn't be any more different. Dickerson is a 6-foot-2, 226-pounder with 4.43 speed and a 43-inch vertical leap. He projects as a potential H-back, fullback or slot wide receiver. He's not a traditional tight end.

Byham is a crushing blocker at 6-foot-4, 268 pounds. He's not much of a receiver, though. He's more of a late-round target.

Other possibilities include USC's Anthony McCoy (15.9 yards per reception), Florida's Aaron Hernandez, (a John Mackey award winner who bench presses 225 pounds 30 times and runs in the 4.5 to 4.6 range) and Miami's Jimmy Graham, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound former basketball player who played just one year of football.

Hernandez is considered to be in the Dallas Clark mold.

Missouri State's Clay Harbor and New Hampshire's Scott Sicko are a pair of rising draft sleepers. And McCoy is considered a solid second-round target.

"I came in as a wide receiver, but I was overweight," McCoy said. "I came in thinking I could be the next Mike Williams. I wanted to be like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Jerry Rice and guys like that, but I just couldn't keep my weight down low enough to do that."

Last season, McCoy registered 22 receptions for 457 yards to average 20.8 yards per reception.

"I bring a different dimension to the game," McCoy said. "I feel I can bring similar things that tight ends like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates do, but I don't like to compare myself to them. I'd like to be better than them."

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