Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Pitta Situation

There seems to be some consternation among Ravens' fans about the current Dennis Pitta contract situation, so I thought I would chime in.

As the Ravens struggle to come to some sort of long term arrangement with Dennis Pitta, some people are wondering if he is really worth the sort of money he may be seeking.  They tend to point to Pitta's decent but not exceptional yearly stat totals as evidence for why he should settle for less money than some of his peers, but that is probably not an entirely reasonable way of viewing this issue.

First of all, his statistical production was probably held back a bit due to some unpleasant issues that were outside of his control.  Regardless of whatever talent he may possess, the team was pushing for a few years to make Ed 'Butterfingers' Dickson the starter, ahead of Pitta.  Now, at this point nobody believes that Dickson is actually better than Pitta, but since Dickson was selected one round ahead of Pitta (Dickson was taken in the 3rd round in 2010, versus Pitta in the 4th round of the same draft) and was given more opportunities in his career, a bit of idiocy ensued.  Consider this, to see how lopsided the situation was in Dickson's favor:

        Year       GP       GS     Rec    Yards    TDs      Yards/GP
Pitta 2013 4 1 20 169 1 42.25
Dickson 2013 16 14 25 273 1 17.062

Pitta 2012 16 5 61 669 7 41.812
Dickson 2012 13 11 21 225 0 17.307

Pitta 2011 16 2 40 405 3 25.312
Dickson 2011 16 16 54 528 5 33

Pitta 2010 11 0 1 1 0 0.09
Dickson 2010 15 3 11 152 1 10.133


47 8 122 1244 11 26.468
60 44 111 1178 7 19.633

How the hell has Dickson started 44 games, to just 8 for Pitta?

First of all, let's look at the 2010 season.  Todd Heap was still on the team at this point, but Dickson was clearly being groomed to be the heir, and Pitta was hardly utilized at all.  This early edge in Dickson's favor was almost certainly just a product of his higher draft status at this point.  Still, as I've said before, I think the team underestimated Pitta, who had a vastly better college resume, and was arguably just as good of an athlete.  Either way, this was a bit of a throwaway season for both of them.

In 2011, Heap was gone, and the team clearly handed the starting job to Dickson (16 starts).  While Dickson did okay, the pesky Pitta was nipping at his heels statistically speaking, despite Dickson getting all of the starts.  The most interesting thing here is that Dickson was only managing to hold onto 58.8% of the passes thrown his way in 2011, while Pitta was holding onto 67.2%.  Considering that Pitta was producing 10.1 yards per reception, versus Dickson's 9.9, it's not as if you could simply blame this difference on the depth of their routes.  One guy was just better at catching the ball, though this didn't seem to matter too much to the Ravens' coaching staff.

Now we get to 2012, where Pitta finally bounded ahead of Dickson, though Dickson continued to get the majority of the starts.  Despite the clear statistical edge that Pitta had in this year, it really wasn't until after week 11 that the team began to give Pitta some extra attention...due to an injury to Dickson.  That's right, they probably never chose to make Pitta the starter, but rather had their hand forced by Dickson's injury.  At this point in the season, Dickson had been in for 404 offensive snaps, compared to Pitta's 360 snaps.  Despite that difference in their playing time, Pitta already had 38 receptions for 381 yards and 3 touchdowns, compared to Dickson's 14 receptions for 152 yards and 0 touchdowns.  Pitta's edge would only continue to grow from this point onwards.

Some might suggest that the reason Dickson was getting more playing time was due to being a better blocker, but really, I think it is probably fair to say that neither one of them is particularly good in this regard.  The same could probably be said of numerous tight ends such as Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham.  So why was Dickson really getting more playing time?  All I can think of as an explanation, is that the team for some reason remained convinced that their higher draft pick, was the better player, despite all of the mounting evidence to the contrary. 

Still, I've seen some suggest that if Pitta's best season only amounted to a total of 669 yards and 7 touchdowns, that this still isn't very impressive.  Oh, how greedy and unreasonable we can be sometimes.  Okay, let's compare him to the ten most productive tight ends from the 2012 season (and we'll throw Dickson in there for comedic purposes).

Player    Snap Count    Rec Yards     Yards Per Snap
D. Pitta 639 669 1.046
E. Dickson 538 225 0.418
J. Witten 1078 1039 0.963
J. Graham 697 982 1.408
T.Gonzalez 964 930 0.967
G. Olsen 1005 843 0.838
H Miller 994 816 0.820
B Myers 1009 806 0.798
R. Gronkowski 731 790 1.080
J. Gresham 1002 737 0.735
O. Daniels 864 716 0.828
B Celek 861 684 0.794
AVG. 920.5
MED. 979

Just to be clear, when I refer to the player's snap count here, I am only using their regular season snap count.  Including their full season snap count would warp things a bit, since not everyone made it to the post-season.  Either way, it is fairly obvious that when we look at his peers, Pitta wasn't receiving nearly as many opportunities as them, though he still managed to wind up in 11th place for receiving yards by a tight end.  We could project Pitta's numbers based on the average and median number of snaps for the other tight ends, and we would wind up with a result of between 963 and 1024 yards, though this could be a bit too ridiculous to take seriously.  That many of these other players were on much more offensively competent teams than the Ravens, probably doesn't need to be pointed out either.

Additionally, I find the fact that the only two players with a higher Yards Per Snap are Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.  Obviously, Pitta doesn't have the power and size of Gronkowski.  Nor does he have the speed and athleticism of Graham.  Still, Pitta is very agile for a tight end (based on his combine numbers), and most importantly he is dependable.  That Pitta could even have some sort of odd statistical comparison to Graham and Gronkowski, is at the very least intriguing, isn't it?

Which brings us finally to Pitta's ill-fated 2013 season.  What might have been, will never be known, but there is something interesting to contemplate here.  Despite missing the majority of the season, he did manage to make it back for the last few games.  What happened?  Well, he only had 20 receptions for 169 yards, and 1 touchdown, in the 4 games he participated in.  Unimpressive, right?  Except that when we consider he was only on the field for 158 snaps, this works out to 1.069 yards per snap, which is ever so slightly better than what he did in 2012, his best season.  As far as concerns over whether he could come back from the hip injury are concerned, I would say that this is a sign in his favor.

So, am I saying that the Ravens should resign him?  Not really.  Despite my high opinion of him, he is getting a bit older (he'll be 29 at the start of the next season).  Does this mean the team should draft a tight end to replace him?  Not really.  I'm not sure it is reasonable to expect a rookie to outperform Pitta.  So, I'm not advocating for either resigning Pitta, or replacing him, so what am I suggesting?  What I am actually suggesting is that whatever the team does, they probably shouldn't squander talent like they appear to have done for much of their time with Dennis Pitta.  Whoever does end up starting next year, I just hope they aren't screwed over the way Pitta appears to have been.

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