Four days before their “Monday Night Football” matchup last season, New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan offered his assessment of the Ravens’ offense. It was Nov. 3, and wideout Rashod Bateman had just been lost to a season-ending foot injury. That changed Jordan’s thinking on quarterback Lamar Jackson’s receiving options only so much.
“They have Mark Andrews, which would be his wide receiver No. 1,” Jordan said, “especially now that I just learned that Bateman is out.”
Even now, seven months and one offseason overhaul later, the Ravens’ star tight end remains the closest thing the team has to a WR1. Andrews never functioned more like a wide receiver than he did last year, and until Jackson’s season-ending knee injury in December, he was, by one metric, never more productive as a receiver than he was last year.
At last week’s organized team activities, Andrews smiled after practice as if a burden had been lifted. After a 2022 season riddled with erratic quarterback play, bothersome double-teams and poor downfield spacing came sweet relief. Over the offseason, the Ravens had signed Jackson, with whom Andrews has developed a special connection, to a long-term extension; added wide receivers Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr., who along with a healthy Bateman profile as potential difference makers; and replaced one tight end-friendly offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, with Todd Monken, who’d showcased them at Georgia.
“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,” Andrews said Thursday. “So I think the sky is the limit. I think, for us, it’s just about taking charge, taking control of this offense, making it ours and just keep on going, keep on working.”
Andrews’ offseason preparation is never a concern for Ravens officials; coach John Harbaugh last month all but gave him a free pass for missing the team’s voluntary football school workouts and the first week of OTAs. The 6-foot-5 Andrews took the field Thursday with a lean upper body and said afterward he’s in “one of the best shapes of my life.”
He looked like he could line up over a 270-pound defensive end. He looked like he could run with a 190-pound cornerback. Such is his versatility.
Depending on the Ravens’ needs last season, Andrews could do his best Josh Oliver impression or his best Anquan Boldin impression. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out as the NFL’s sixth-best run-blocking tight end among players with at least 200 offensive snaps. He also led the Ravens in receiving yards when lined up as an isolated receiver for the second straight year, according to Sports Info Solutions.
In a passing offense maligned for its lack of creativity, Andrews was one of the few Ravens receivers who could show the breadth of his talents. He was the team’s runaway leader in catches (73), yards (847) and receiving touchdowns (five) despite minor knee and shoulder injuries, and he led the receiving corps in catches in a range of route types, from outs to digs to deep crosses to broken plays.
“You look at him on film and you don’t think he’s that fast,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “But when you get into him in person, Mark can roll. His routes — 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.”
Andrews is the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid tight end in terms of average annual value ($14 million) and has the most guaranteed money on his contract among players at the position ($30.1 million). But never was the distinction between “star tight end” and “jumbo wide receiver” blurred more than it was last year.
Andrews lined up in the slot on 64.8% of his passing snaps, according to PFF, the highest rate among qualifying tight ends and more often than even star slot receivers Keenan Allen (64.6%) and CeeDee Lamb (62.7%).
“I’ve been doing this for a long, long time,” Andrews said. “Growing up, in high school, I was [an] outside receiver. I’ve been doing it. And there aren’t a lot of tight ends that I feel like can do the certain things that I’m able to do.”
Less obvious were the things he didn’t do. As an inline tight end, Andrews blocked often for the Ravens’ prolific run game, and he blocked well. But like most wide receivers, and unlike pretty much all tight ends, he almost never had to worry about pass protection. Over 16 games, Andrews was credited with one pass-blocking snap, in a road loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle, meanwhile, finished with 24 and 34 last season, respectively.
With Oliver’s offseason departure and the relative inexperience of second-year tight ends Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar, Andrews figures to be more involved in safeguarding the quarterbacks next season. Star Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, a potential top-five pick in next year’s draft and the Bulldogs’ leading receiver in 2022, averaged more than one pass-blocking snap per game last season.
But it will be tempting for Monken to unleash Andrews as often as possible. He is more reliable than the injury-prone Bateman, more explosive than the 30-year-old Beckham and more experienced than Flowers. Among tight ends, Andrews finished behind only Kelce (2.27) last season in yards per route run (1.97), according to PFF, a measure considered one of the more reliable indicators of receiving ability.
When Jackson was healthy, Andrews was even more productive. He averaged 2.18 yards per route run from Week 1 to Week 12, which would’ve finished tied for 13th among all qualifying wide receivers and tight ends last season. (Coincidentally, Andrews also averaged 2.18 yards per route run in 2021, when he earned All-Pro honors.)
There were obvious holes in his game. Andrews had a career-high eight drops, according to Pro Football Reference. His catch rate (64.6%) and yards per target (7.5) were the lowest of his career. His five touchdowns were his fewest since his rookie year.
But Andrews also struggled with obvious handcuffs. In mid-December, after the Ravens had lost Bateman and Jackson, Roman said Andrews was getting double-teamed “more than he ever has.” A week later, starting wide receiver Devin Duvernay suffered a season-ending foot injury, further depleting the passing game’s potency.
On Thursday, though, Andrews was looking ahead — to Monken’s offense (“very player friendly”), to reuniting with Jackson (“I’m happy he’s here for good”), to the new receiving corps (“It’s going to be special”). After a record-breaking start in Baltimore, where he became the first player in franchise history to eclipse 4,000 receiving yards over his first five seasons, Andrews is used to the attention. But he didn’t seem to mind the prospect of blending in a bit more.
“I’m blessed to be able to be around these great players right now and have a lot of pieces to help me out, and I’m excited about that part about it,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’m going to go out and do what I do: win my one on ones, win my double-teams and just play ball.”