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Timing Seemed Right For Ravens To 'Maxx' Out Second-Round Pick

May 15, 2015

There might not be a better time than now for the Ravens to have drafted someone like Maxx Williams.

Ravens 2015: Maxx Williams (press conference)
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

For one thing, the former University of Minnesota tight end -- taken in the second round with the 55th overall pick in this year's draft -- fits the template of the modern-day NFL tight end, combining good route running, solid hands and the ability to stretch the field.

For another, the pick fills a need for a Ravens team that not only likes to provide quarterback Joe Flacco with big downfield targets, but needs another option in the wake of Dennis Pitta's pair of hip injuries that could be career-ending.

Also, the Ravens got a shot to draft Williams by trading with the Arizona Cardinals and moving up three spots, getting in line one pick ahead of their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Published reports in the Steel City have indicated the Steelers were indeed going to draft Williams to eventually replace veteran Heath Miller if the Ravens had not made their pre-emptive strike.

Williams is likely to fit into the Ravens' scheme right away.

"He has a great skill set," offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. "He has great football intelligence. We're able to move him around and do different things with him inside and outside. He can cut off on the backside, and he can be a front-side blocker as well. 

"This is a young guy. He's just 21 years old, and he's still growing. He's still getting stronger, and yet, he has a skill set that's ready-made for this league. We're excited about the things that he can do. … He can get vertical. He can get in the seams. He's made plays in the red zone. He'll go to the ground and find the football, and he'll go up in the air. He has good catch radius for his size."

That size (6-foot-4, 249 pounds) will come in handy against opposing defenders who are seemingly getting bigger and faster with every passing year. 

According to Lindy's pre-draft guide, the present-day NFL comparison Williams invites is none other than Dallas Cowboys standout Jason Witten, already being mentioned by many gridiron observers as a future Hall of Fame candidate.

Williams played 25 games with the Golden Gophers and declared for the draft after his redshirt sophomore season. But that limited resume didn't stop him from standing out in what was perceived as a below-average tight end draft class.

The John Mackey Award finalist -- only the third sophomore to reach that plateau -- caught 61 career passes for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 16.2 yards per reception. Williams was also named to several All-America and All-Academic teams, so the potential for him to take an early leadership role is also there.

However, the Ravens need a leader to help march them into the end zone from inside an opponents' 20-yard line. Last season, Baltimore mustered the 19th-best red-zone touchdown percentage in the league, converting on 33 of 63 chances.

"As a receiver, I say I like to go out there and try to make plays," Williams said. "That's the best way I can describe it. I go out there, try to make plays, try to use my body as a tight end knowing I'm a little bigger than a receiver. 

"[I] try to use my body, manipulate it and make the catch."

Whether Pitta returns to the field this year, catches will be needed from Williams. The tight end position has provided the Ravens at least 50 receptions and four touchdowns every year since 2009, so contributions from Williams, second-year returnee Crockett Gillmore, fifth-round draft pick Nick Boyle and holdover Phillip Supernaw will be key.

"It's a great get," tight ends coach Rich Angulo said of the Williams pick. "You're getting two of the best guys kind of in different spectrums -- with pass catching with Maxx and Nick Boyle with what he can do on the line. But at the same time, too, [Williams is] very athletic. He's a threat in the receiving game as well. 

"Man, as a tight ends coach, I couldn't be happier right now, I'll tell you what."

While it may be asking a bit much for Williams to take over games singlehandedly, he may have to do just that if young pass-catching options such as wide receivers Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro get off to slow starts this year.

Last year against Iowa, Williams hauled in three touchdowns during one game, becoming the 12th player in Minnesota school history to do that. He was the first Gopher in 12 years to achieve the feat, the most recent being Ben Utecht, who went on to have a solid career with the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals. 

Williams also follows another legacy, one that began in his own household.

Williams, like Perriman, is following his father into the league. Brian Williams was a veteran center for the New York Giants from 1989-1999. Also, Williams' grandfather was a collegiate standout at Notre Dame before being drafted by the Bears, and an uncle played in the now-defunct World League of American Football.

If all that weren't enough, his mother, Rochelle, was one of the best volleyball players in the Big Ten conference while at Minnesota.

"Definitely, it does help growing up in a house that had two parents who were college athletes, and then my dad, who was also in the pros," Williams said. "Just kind of having that, where they [instill] work ethic in you from the start, because they always taught us that you have to work for what you want, and they obviously always did that with their careers. 

"So, just growing up around that, knowing that everything you do, you do your best, and good things happen if you're doing that. Growing up around that, and especially having my dad being a pro athlete, being able to fall and lean on him when I needed him, it was a great way to grow up getting ready for this kind of moment."

It's just the kind of moment for which Williams seems to be made. 

For Ravens fans, it seems to have come at the perfect time.

Joe Platania has been covering professional football since 1994.

Issue 209: May 2015