It’s been two months since we first heard, upon Anquan Boldin’s departure to San Francisco, that Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta would benefit from the absence of Joe Flacco’s security blanket.
It’s immediately clear to anyone who watched the Ravens’ (sometimes brutally bad) offense in 2012 why Pitta would be the beneficiary of Boldin’s exit from Baltimore. Pitta and Boldin often occupied the same spot on the field — over the middle, finding soft spots in coverage.
Anyone who owned Pitta for more than a few games in 2012 remembers the nightmarish vanishing act the tight end often pulled, sometimes after looking like a reliable top-12 option just a week before. It wasn’t just Pitta’s receptions and yardage that reached maddening peaks and valleys throughout 2012 — it was his opportunities, his targets, as well.
I looked back at Boldin’s biggest games and Pitta’s most dominant performances from last season, and — not shockingly — found that when one succeeded, the other failed, usually in disastrous fashion for fantasy owners. Especially during Cam Cameron’s time as offensive coordinator — before he was mercifully canned in December — Pitta’s week-to-week value was capped by Boldin’s usage and never-ending hi-lo routes that became predictable for safeties and linebackers paying even a little bit of attention.
Below are seven examples of how Boldin and Pitta undermined each other’s fantasy production in 2012.
Dennis Pitta: 8 receptions on 15 targets for 65 yards
Anquan Boldin: 2 receptions on 4 targets for 7 yards
Dennis Pitta: 0 receptions on 0 targets for 0 yards
Anquan Boldin: 9 receptions on 12 targets for 131 yards
Dennis Pitta: 3 receptions on 4 targets for 22 yards
Anquan Boldin: 4 receptions on 10 targets for 82 yards
Dennis Pitta: 1 reception on 1 target for 5 yards
Anquan Boldin: 8 receptions on 12 targets for 79 yards
Dennis Pitta: 1 reception on 3 targets for 19 yards
Anquan Boldin: 5 receptions on 12 targets for 81 yards
Dennis Pitta: 7 receptions on 10 targets for 125 yards
Anquan Boldin: 0 receptions on 0 targets for 0 yards
It became clear early in the 2012 season that either Pitta or Boldin would post solid numbers, but rarely both. That created a lot of guesswork for fantasy owners intent on using either option, as it was nearly impossible to tell how an opposing defense would approach two of Flacco’s favorite targets. The details of defensive game plans, of course, are among the Rumsfeldian “known unknowns” that fantasy footballers face every week.
And it wasn’t just that Pitta and Boldin caught passes in the same general vicinity last season. They often lined up in the slot. Pro Football Focus numbers show us exactly how the Ravens used Boldin and Pitta from the slot last year.
Performance from the slot
256 routes (10th among TEs)
64.5 percent of routes run from the slot
23 percent target rate in the slot
15.9 percent target rate in the slot
59 targets in the slot (5th among TEs)
39 receptions from the slot (4th among TEs)
328 routes from the slot (11th among WRs)
62.2 percent of routes run from the slot
328 routes (11th among WRs)
15.9 percent target rate in the slot
52 targets in the slot (16th among WRs)
29 receptions from slot (18th among WRs)
Does Boldin’s departure mean Pitta gets every slot opportunity and target Boldin had last year? Of course not. To expect Pitta to take a bigger role in Jim Caldwell’s offense is a fairly safe assumption though. Pitta’s replacement of Boldin at wide receiver during a two-game Boldin injury in 2011 is all but forgotten, as is Pitta’s occasional wide receiver play during his career at BYU.
“Well, certainly Pitta has done a really good job,” former NFL general manager and current NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly said in an interview with BaltimoreRavens.com when asked if Pitta could take a larger role as the Ravens’ main slot receiver. “I think that’s an area that could be utilized more going into the future and be just as productive in that role as a go-to guy who can move the chains. … Pitta can do that. There’s no question about that.”
I’m an advocate of streaming tight ends if you don’t nab one of the elites. Drafting a duo or a trio of tight ends late in your draft and strictly playing match-ups should become the norm for those without the luxury of starting Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and company.
Pitta’s potentially prominent role in 2013, however, makes him a tight end who could be pegged as something of an every-week starter (with a late-sixth round ADP). I think a Boldin-less Ravens’ offense will make for a far more consistent Pitta in 2013, one whose value doesn’t hinge entirely on the usage of another player.