Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta is no stranger to hip injuries. On June 2nd 2017, Pitta suffered his third dislocated right hip in five years. Unfortunately this latest injury is reportedly forcing Pitta into an early retirement. A fourth round pick in 2010, Pitta has spent his entire seven year career with the Ravens.
The injury is truly disheartening for Pitta; coming off an excellent season in 2016. After missing all of the 2015 season with a hip injury, Pitta finished the 2016 season with career highs in catches, targets and yards. Pitta was expected to be a mid round target for fantasy owners. While Pitta didn’t offer the upside like a Rob Gronkowski or Jordan Reed he was a solid starting option.
Now with Pitta’s career likely over the Ravens need to find his replacement at tight end. Free agents Gary Barnidge and Ladarius Green are potential options but both have their risks. Outside of the 2015 season, Barnidge has never been a consistent receiving threat. Green has a history of injuries and only played in six games last season.
Ravens are expected to fill the starting tight end spot from in house. Three candidates to step into the starting role are Crockett Gillmore, Benjamin Watson and Maxx Williams. Currently Gillmore is the only healthy player of the group. Watson and Williams are recovering from surgeries but both are expected to be ready for training camp.
Being healthy could give Gillmore the inside track but Watson is the elder statesmen of the group, while Williams has the highest upside. None of these guys will provide the same fantasy value as Pitta did in 2016. One of these three players will have to step his game up so let’s examine the case for each one.
Gillmore, a 2014 third round pick, is healthy and has a chance to win the starting spot early on. With a 6’6” 260 lb frame, Gillmore is bigger than Pitta and offers a bigger catch radius. However with only 33 catches during the 2015, when Pitta was out with injury, might leave the coaching staff wondering how much of a factor Gillmore can be in the passing game.
Watson was signed as free agent in 2016 after his career season with the Saints. Expecting to be the starter for the 2016 season, Watson tore his Achilles in the preseason and missed all of the season. Despite coming off a major injury and being 36 years old the Ravens decided to bring him for 2017 season. The team must have faith in his health; the team could of released him and saved $3 million dollars against the cap this season. That option is still available if Watson falls behind the others on the depth chart. Watson has the most experience of any tight end on the roster and might be the most able to be a safe security blanket for Joe Flacco.
Williams, a 2015 second round pick, has the highest upside of any tight end on the roster and was drafted as an insurance policy knowing Pitta’s injury history. Williams had no impact on the 2016 season and was placed on injured reserve after week four with a lingering knee injury; finishing the season with zero catches. As rookie in 2015, Williams finished second in catches at the tight end position with 32 only behind Gillmore’s 33.
Losing Pitta really hurts the Ravens as none of the other tight ends on the roster can match his ability. However, Williams has the best shot to replacement Pitta’s fantasy value. Williams is the closest to matching Pitta’s size and skill set on the roster.
Given the Ravens’ lack off passing weapons Williams could be in line for a solid target workload. If Williams wins the starting job and can stay healthy, a big if, he should be fourth in targets on the team. Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Danny Woodhead all should finished ahead of Williams for targets.
If Williams stays healthy for 16 games he should finish in the ball park of 45 catches, 600 yards and four touchdowns. Given these projections Williams would finish the season with 84 points in standard leagues, making him a late round flier with some upside.
Is Williams a good fantasy option? Depending on the size and starting line up format he probably isn’t. Williams is likely in the late TE2 conversation with some upside. If you are hopeful to make Williams your late round tight end sleeper I suggest looking elsewhere. Other tight ends I would consider as sleepers over Williams includes; Evan Engram, Austin Hooper and Julius Thomas.
In conclusion, Pitta’s injury really affects the Ravens offense this season. It also takes a solid tight end option off fantasy draft boards. Trying to replacement Pitta’s fantasy production with another option currently on the Ravens roster is a high risk, low chance of success move. I’d stay away!