2021 Ravens training camp preview: Tight ends and fullbacks

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With all passes for both training camp and the July 31 stadium practice claimed in under 24 hours, there’s no shortage of fan excitement as the Ravens ramp up preparations for the 2021 season next week.

But with that enthusiasm comes great expectations for a franchise that’s won 25 regular-season games over the last two years. The Ravens will not only be aiming to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, but a deeper January run is in order after back-to-back exits in the divisional round. In the eyes of many, it will be Super Bowl or bust as a talented roster becomes more and more expensive.

Ahead of the start of training camp next week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2021 Ravens every day:

Quarterbacks
Outside linebackers
Running backs
Safeties

TIGHT ENDS AND FULLBACKS

Projected depth chart entering training camp:
TIGHT END – Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Eli Wolf, Tony Poljan, Jake Breeland
FULLBACK – Patrick Ricard, Ben Mason

Why to be impressed: The 25-year-old Andrews has 17 touchdown receptions since the start of 2019, ranking eighth in the NFL while continuing to serve as Lamar Jackson’s most reliable target. The 2019 Pro Bowl selection also became the first tight end in franchise history to record back-to-back seasons of at least 700 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches. According to Pro Football Focus, Andrews has averaged 2.22 yards per route run over the last two years, ranking fourth among tight ends and illustrating how he’s made the most of his opportunities. Despite sustaining a season-ending knee injury in November, Boyle was graded 11th among all qualified tight ends in run blocking and 17th overall by PFF. Ricard made his second straight Pro Bowl and saw more extensive snaps as an inline tight end in addition to being one of the NFL’s best fullbacks in 2020.

Why to be concerned: Despite the offseason updates from John Harbaugh sounding positive, Boyle was placed on the active physically unable to perform list this week, and it remains unclear when he’ll be ready to return to the practice field. How close he’ll be to 100 percent for the start of the season has to be a concern considering how critical he is as a blocker for the running game. There is quite an inventory of young tight ends on the 90-man roster, but none are proven enough to state with confidence that the Ravens will find a formidable No. 3 option, something they lacked last year after the offseason trade of 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst.

Big question: How will the numbers shake out at these positions?

Assuming good health by the end of summer, Andrews, Boyle, and Ricard are the obvious roster locks, but how the rest of the tight end and fullback group shakes out will be interesting with much hinging on the development of the fifth-round rookie Mason. The Ravens are officially listing the Michigan product as a tight end, but is Mason really a viable No. 3 or a somewhat redundant backup to Ricard, who is entering the final year of his contract. Oliver, a former third-round pick acquired from Jacksonville in March, flashed some during spring workouts, but injuries have stunted his development to this point in his career. The need to recreate the three-headed monster at tight end that was a major part of the offense’s identity two years ago won’t be as strong if the substantial investments made at wide receiver pay off, but this position will feel unsettled until Boyle is back to full health.

Prediction: Andrews will be named to his second Pro Bowl in three years and catch at least seven touchdowns for the third straight season to position himself for a big payday if a contract extension doesn’t come before then.