Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson dropped back a couple of steps and lofted a pass 15 yards down the middle and into the end zone. With Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack in tight coverage, Ravens tight end Mark Andrews soared above Jack and, fully extended, hauled in the catch before falling to the ground, rolling over and throwing his hands upward in a touchdown gesture.
That catch by Andrews during an August joint practice was one of the highlights of Ravens training camp and was also fitting in many ways. The play illustrated the strides Jackson has made as a passer during the past year and also showed why Andrews is a trendy national pick to be a breakout star this season.
Andrews, the second-year tight end from Oklahoma, was the Ravens’ most consistent offensive player throughout training camp, building on what was an impressive rookie season in 2018. He finished last season with 34 catches for 552 yards — a Ravens rookie-tight-end record and the most by any rookie tight end in the league last year — and three touchdowns.
Andrews was involved in two of the Ravens’ three longest plays from scrimmage last season: a 74-yard catch-and-run from Jackson against the Oakland Raiders and a 68-yard touchdown pass from Jackson against the Los Angeles Chargers.
As they showed on those plays, and again throughout the summer on the Owings Mills, Md., practice fields, Jackson and Andrews have a chemistry that began “last year, almost immediately,” Andrews said. “Coming in together, we repped a lot, especially in training camp last year, so we’ve had a lot of time together to formulate that.
“How he sees the game, how I run routes, how I see the game,” Andrews added, is “eerily similar.”
Ravens tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who played with Andrews at Oklahoma and watched Andrews catch passes from another Heisman winner in former Sooners star Baker Mayfield, said it’s no surprise Andrews and Jackson hit it off right away.
“He’s really good at working with the quarterback that he has,” Brown said. “He’s going to figure out how he likes to throw the ball, what routes he likes, how he likes the routes run, and he goes from there.”
Second Tight End Selected
Given Andrews’ success last year, it’s easy to forget he wasn’t a top draft pick and wasn’t even the first tight end drafted by the Ravens last season.
The Ravens selected Hayden Hurst with their first pick last year at No. 25 overall, then traded back into the first round to select Jackson. Late on the night of the second day of the draft, the Ravens tabbed Andrews in the third round with the No. 86 overall pick.
Any hesitation Andrews might have had about going to a team that had already drafted a tight end quickly vanished for two reasons. First, he and Hurst had become friends at the NFL Scouting Combine and were excited about the prospect of being teammates. And second, Andrews quickly learned that this was by no means unusual for the Ravens.
In 2015, the Ravens drafted a pair of tight ends, selecting Maxx Williams in the second round and Nick Boyle in the fifth. In 2010, the Ravens drafted tight ends with back-to-back picks, taking Ed Dickson in the third round and Dennis Pitta in the fourth.
“They’ve been doing this for awhile,” Andrews said, “and the formula’s worked.”
It was Pitta, the popular Ravens tight end whose career was cut short by hip injuries, who general manager Eric DeCosta immediately mentioned as a comparable when Andrews was drafted.
That night, DeCosta described Andrews as “a guy that runs well, very, very good hands, uncovers versus the zone, makes the tough catch, just a very smart player.”
Tight-End Friendly Offense
After one year in the league, Andrews has done little to alter DeCosta’s scouting report.
With Hurst slowed early last season by a foot injury, Andrews quickly emerged as the top offensive weapon among the tight ends, totaling more receiving yards than the other three tight ends combined.
Andrews has proved to be a matchup problem who can work open deep or underneath, and at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, he can be a tough man to tackle. During the Week 3 preseason game at Philadelphia in August, Andrews dragged three Eagles defenders more than 10 yards, turning a short dumpoff into a 25-yard gain.
The Ravens love that physical style, and that will be a key element to this offense led by new coordinator Greg Roman.
Andrews, wearing a white Ravens T-shirt with the sleeves cut off before a recent practice, broke into a broad smile at the sound of Roman’s name, for there might not be a coordinator in the league with a greater affinity for the tight end position.
“He’s always loved his tight ends,” Andrews said. “He uses them in unique ways.”
An offensive coordinator previously with the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, Roman has made multiple tight-end formations a centerpiece of his systems, which have consistently ranked near the top of the league in rushing. Last year, only four teams ran two-tight end sets more often than the Ravens, according to Sharp Football Stats.
With the Ravens, Roman has a trio of strong tight ends in Andrews, Hurst and Boyle, the elder statesman of the group who signed a new three-year deal this offseason. All three can contribute as receivers, but all three also will be expected to shoulder the load as blockers in an offense driven by the run game.
Toward that end, Andrews made his blocking ability a key offseason point of emphasis, working out with his older brother when no teammates were available.
“He’s 27, and he held up pretty well,” Andrews said with a smile. “He’s a big guy.”
Andrews knows that with Roman’s schemes and Jackson’s dynamic ability and immediate connection, he landed in a good spot for his skill set. But he said he’s not about to rest on any accomplishments from last year.
“Every day is new,” Andrews said. “I try to get better every day. I don’t really care about what was done in the past. It’s all about what have you done lately.”
“I still have a ton to prove,” he added. “In my head, I have high expectations, and I plan to meet them.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 257: September 2019