The Brightest Light In The Post-Boldin Era May Come From Pitta
Throughout last year's NFL Playoffs, QB Joe Flacco had historic production. However, much of that production was reliant on the play of imposing WR Anquan Boldin. Flacco still had to trust Boldin and push the ball to him in situations where he could succeed, but the value of Boldin to the 2012 team cannot be overstated.
For that reason, many fans were shocked to see Boldin traded to the San Francisco 49ers soon after the Super Bowl. GM Ozzie Newsome was rebuilding his roster not only for short-term success, but for a better overall outlook in the long-term. For that reason, Boldin's 32-year-old body and his bloated salary was to be sacrificed for the greater good. Although they cut Boldin loose, they didn't make any big splash to replace him.
In fact, the only new receiver currently on the roster is seventh-round pick Aaron Mellette from Elon. Instead of entering the season with Torrey Smith and Boldin starting outside, the Ravens currently project to enter the season with Jacoby Jones and Smith atop their depth chart. Jones broke out during last year's playoffs, but at 28 years of age and six seasons under his belt, it's unlikely that he is suddenly going to turn an inconsistent career into one worthy of replacing Boldin.
Beyond Jones, the Ravens have youngsters David Reed, Deonte Thompson, Tandon Doss and Tommy Streeter. Each is a talented young receiver with the potential to fill a role with this team on some level, but none carry the ability or physical style that served the Ravens so well last year. Boldin's individual play alone wasn't what made him a special player for the Ravens, his size and style was the perfect complement to the speed of Torrey Smith and unpredictability of Jones.
Now that Boldin is gone, the natural reaction would be to return to the running game more often in 2013. Bernard Pierce showed enough in 2012 to force his way into a rotation with Ray Rice, but after investing so heavily in their quarterback, that route seems counterproductive for their roster as a whole.
Instead, the Ravens will most likely look to use Dennis Pitta more as a receiver and target him even more than they did last year. Pitta has the natural receiving talent of Boldin and the physical tools to play his role. Pivotally, Pitta also has the flexibility to move into the slot on a consistent basis, which will allow the Ravens to make greater use of Ed Dickson. The Oregon alum could seize the opportunity to be featured more often when Pitta moves to the slot, while the offense would have greater flexibility prior to the snap with more tight end sets.
After the re-signing of LT Bryant McKinnie, it's imperative that the Ravens surround Joe Flacco with weapons. They have failed to do that so far this offseason, so unless there is a trade before the beginning the start of this season, those weapons will need to be found on the current roster. Pitta is the most likely player to step into an even greater role.