Brian Wacker: What a new offense and new receivers means for Ravens star tight end Mark Andrews

Tribune Content Agency

The NFL offseason is a lot of things, depending on the team. For the Ravens, it’s been a roller coaster.

There were notable departures (left guard Ben Powers, defensive end Calais Campbell), significant additions (wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., offensive coordinator Todd Monken) and, of course, the drama that swirled around Lamar Jackson and the organization before they came to terms on a five-year contract extension that reportedly makes him the league’s highest-paid quarterback per year.

Then there’s Mark Andrews.

Amid all the ups and downs Baltimore has endured — not just in the past five months, but in the past five years — the steadiest influence has been the tight end it selected out of Oklahoma in the third round of the 2018 draft. Andrews has nearly done it all in his career. He was named an All-Pro in 2021 after a 107-catch, 1,361-yard, nine-touchdown season. He’s led the Ravens in targets, catches and receiving yards in three of the past four seasons. He’s been selected to the Pro Bowl three times. What he hasn’t done? Win, or even get to, a Super Bowl.

“I’m extremely, extremely driven right now,” Andrews said last week.

He is applying that same level of enthusiasm to what should be the best collection of pass catchers around him since he entered the league.

In addition to Beckham, the Ravens bolstered their previously lackluster wide receiver group by using a first-round pick on speedster Zay Flowers and signing veteran Nelson Agholor. Promising third-year receiver Rashod Bateman is also back after season-ending foot surgery, while 25-year-old Devin Duvernay and 23-year-old tight end Isaiah Likely should be meaningful contributors as well.

All that talent should help the Ravens avoid finishing last in the NFL in yards by wide receivers, as they did last season. It could also mean fewer double teams for the 6-foot-5, 247-pound Andrews, who despite the extra attention from defenses was again one of the game’s best at the position in 2022.

“I think it’s going to be a dangerous offense,” Andrews, 27, said. “I’ve really loved what Coach Monken has had to teach and the way he’s teaching and his energy that he brings — very enthusiastic. So, I think the sky is the limit. For us, it’s just about taking charge, taking control of this offense, making it ours and just keep on going, keep on working.”

Last year, Andrews again did the lion’s share of the work.

His 73 catches, 847 yards and five touchdowns were all team highs. His 79.4 receiving and 70.1 run-blocking grades from Pro Football Focus also made him the only tight end to eclipse 70 in both. He also ranked second among tight ends with an average of 1.92 yards per route run, a measure of receiving efficiency, while his 28 explosive plays (catches gaining 15 or more yards) tied for second-most at the position with the San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle.

Yet, as Monken noted earlier this offseason, there is still “only one ball.”

What will that mean for Andrews’ production?

“I don’t really care,” the tight end said. “I know that if all of us are doing our jobs, all of us are playing well, we don’t have to worry about that type of thing.”

It’s also not as if Jackson is going to stop throwing to Andrews just because other players will command the ball.

Both arrived in Baltimore five years ago, and they have developed a strong chemistry since. The majority of Jackson’s 326 pass attempts last season were over the middle and in the short or intermediate range, which is, of course, where Andrews did most of his damage. The Ravens have also lined up Andrews, who played wide receiver in high school, all over the field because of his versatility.

That’s not changing.

“He’s just deceptively fast,” linebacker Patrick Queen said. “You look at him on film and you don’t think he’s that fast. But when you get into him in person, Mark can roll. His routes, [he has the] best routes out of the tight end group. He’s everything that you want in a tight end. He’s reliable, great hands, can run routes, big guy. He can go up and get the ball. He does it all. When you have a guy like that, that’s why he got paid what he got.”

That four-year extension, signed in 2021, was worth $56 million, making him the third-highest-paid player at his position at the time. (He’s now fifth, according to Over The Cap.)

Yet, the Ravens have yet to reach the Super Bowl, or an AFC championship game, during Andrews’ tenure, something the star is keenly aware of.

“I want to win a Super Bowl — that’s No. 1,” he said. “This city, this place, this organization deserves that. We put a lot of work in. I think about the guys that were drafted in my 2018 draft class, and it feels like, kind of, what we started, what we built, and it’s time. It’s time.”