NFL draft steal: Ravens' Mark Andrews overcomes pre-draft concerns to join elite TE class

·6-min read

Each week during the 2021 season, we'll examine our NFL draft steal of the week — a younger player whose NFL success has surpassed where he was drafted. We'll try to look back at the why and how of where they were selected and what we thought of that prospect prior to the draft.

Oklahoma TE Mark Andrews

Baltimore Ravens
6-foot-5, 256 pounds
2018 NFL draft: Round 3, No. 86 overall

The Ravens' 2021 season has been defined by ebbs and flows, highs and lows, from the thrilling last-minute victories over the Lions, Chiefs, Colts, Vikings, Bears and Browns ... to the heartbreaking losses to the Raiders, Steelers, Browns and Packers — the final three by a combined four points.

Injuries have ravaged the Ravens since summer. Lamar Jackson has missed time in three games. The RBs room has been a rotating cast of former Pro Bowlers and dart throws. The defense has taken it on the chin.

Baltimore has gone from leading the division and owning the best record in the AFC after Week 12 to currently sitting outside the playoffs entering Week 16.

Amid all the chaos, there has been one constant for the volatile Ravens: Mark Andrews.

Just days before the start of this season — on Andrews' 26th birthday, in fact — the team signed him to a massive contract extension. The move is proving to be a grand slam.

The fourth-year tight end is having a breakout season, leading the team in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, and ranking in the NFL's top 10 in all those categories — rare territory for a tight end in this era not named Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews, a former third-round pick, has become one of the best in the NFL at his position. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews, a former third-round pick, has become one of the best in the NFL at his position. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Sunday's banner performance in the last-minute loss to the Packers saw Andrews haul in 10 catches for 136 yards and two scores from backup QB Tyler Huntley. It was Andrews' fourth game with 100 or more yards and his second multi-TD game of the season. He has turned in the best statistical season for any Ravens tight end, and he's done it in 14 games.

Andrews was the intended target on Jackson's failed two-point try — a high throw — in the late loss at Pittsburgh, as well as in Sunday's loss when the Packers swarmed Andrews and knocked down Huntley's pass. But he had done everything possible for the Ravens in those two games, racking up 21 catches (on 24 targets) for 251 yards and three scores.

The Ravens have been one of the more successful drafting teams in recent decades, and Andrews ranks up there among their best value picks in that time. So how did he slip to mid-Round 3? We take a look back at Andrews' path to the NFL draft to figure out why.

Why did Mark Andrews slip in the draft?

The 2018 draft class was a solid TE group, and Andrews wasn't even the first tight end the Ravens selected that year — first-rounder Hayden Hurst was taken six picks ahead of Jackson.

In fact, Andrews wasn't even the first Oklahoma prospect they drafted that year. The Ravens took Sooners offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. three picks prior.

At the time, Andrews felt like a luxury selection for a strong roster, even though he was cast from a similar mold as former Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta. Still, Andrews essentially was the Ravens' TE4 at that moment, even though their top two (Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams) were heading into contract seasons.

But then-GM Ozzie Newsome, his protégé (and eventual successor) Eric DeCosta and the rest of the Ravens' scouting staff had to know that they were getting good value.

"[Andrews has] a linear body, a guy that runs well," DeCosta said in 2018. "Very, very good hands, uncovers versus the zone, makes the tough catch, just a very smart player. I'm excited about that."

After all, Andrews won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end in 2017, catching 62 passes for 958 yards and eight TDs in 14 games for the No. 3 team in the country. He met desired benchmarks at the 2018 NFL scouting combine for height and weight, and ran a strong 40-yard dash (4.67 seconds).

Mark Andrews was a major receiving threat in college at Oklahoma, but he faced pre-draft concerns about his health, speed and blocking. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Mark Andrews was a major receiving threat in college at Oklahoma, but he faced pre-draft concerns about his health, speed and blocking. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Andrews' other combine workouts were middling or worse, with some disappointing results in the vertical jump (31 inches), 3-cone drill (7.34 seconds), 60-yard shuttle (12.39 seconds) and the bench press (17 reps). He also came up short on desired measurements for wingspan (77 inches), arm length (32 1/2 inches) and hand size (9 1/2 inches).

There also were questions about how much Andrews' college production was inflated by a supersonic OU offense led by Baker Mayfield and designed by offensive whiz Lincoln Riley, with blue-chip talent at running back, offensive line and receiver. It was also an offense that often feasted on leaky Big 12 defenses.

Andrews also was dinged for his blocking ability by some evaluators and, because he has type 1 diabetes, some teams added a layer of medical concern to his dossier. In college, Andrews had multiple incidents where his blood sugar dropped to the point of him being unresponsive.

The tape showed a smooth-moving seam threat, a crafty route runner (as a former wide receiver) and some of the best hands — and ability to catch the ball well outside his frame — of almost any target in that class. His raw speed and burst might have been questioned, but Andrews' career 15.8-yard receiving average should have answered some of those concerns.

Looking back, even in a strong class at tight end (that included Dallas Goedert, Mike Gesicki, Dalton Schultz and Hurst), Andrews falling as far as he did feels absurd now. There were legitimate reasons why he wasn't a first-round pick, and the draft is always prone to this type of outlier, but slipping out of Round 2 — where Goedert and Gesicki went — is partly unexplainable now.

Future forecast

Assuming a good health forecast, there's little reason why Andrews can't continue his ascension among the top tight ends in the game.

Kelce might hold that mantle now, but at age 32 he might be closer to the end of his dominance than the beginning. With Andrews improving markedly as a blocker — in the run game and in pass protection — over his time in the NFL, he's as well-rounded now as they come at the position, along with the likes of George Kittle, Goedert and a small handful of others.

Receiving an extension prior to Year 4 shows how much the Ravens valued Andrews this summer, and he's only raised his game since. Head coach John Harbaugh recently referred to his tight end's performance this season as "pretty beastly."

The Ravens have featured some tight end royalty in their 25-plus years of existence, from Todd Heap to Shannon Sharpe to Pitta. But there's a case to be made that Andrews — if he's not atop the list already — could be the best they've had all around at the position in franchise history.

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