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2014 Draft Prep: Pitta will be a Top 5 tight end

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Are you looking for a tight end with "breakout potential" written all over him? You need to target Dennis Pitta.

The Ravens tight end is 100 percent healthy after last season's hip injury and he's ready for a career year. There's a lot going in his favor and the prediction is he will be a top-five tight end across the board.

Pitta was headed for greatness last season after his performance in 2012 when he established himself as a reliable option for Joe Flacco. He had 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns and he was No. 7 in Fantasy points in standard leagues.

But he injured his hip in training camp in 2013 and we never got to see his career year unfold. That changes now.

New Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak relies on tight ends more than anyone else. His former team, the Texans, targeted tight ends more than any other team since 2008. That system is now in Baltimore -- and don't be afraid of veteran tight end Owen Daniels, who was with Kubiak in Houston. Daniels will work in certain packages, but he's a distant second on the depth chart.

Flacco relies on Pitta, who was second in targets for the Ravens in 2012 behind Torrey Smith (110 to 94), but his red-zone work and third-down productivity is vital. According to ESPN, the Ravens ranked 31st in red-zone scoring percentage and 20th on third-down conversion percentage with Pitta out most of last year.

But go back to 2011 and 2012 when Pitta scored a combined 10 touchdowns in the red zone. No other Baltimore player had more than seven during that span. And, in those same two seasons, Pitta had 36 third-down receptions, which tied Ray Rice for the team lead. Only three tight ends (Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez) had more third-down receptions than Pitta over that span.

Another factor to consider is the Ravens might have to throw more with Rice suspended for the first two games. Bernard Pierce could be great filling in for Rice, but keep in mind Baltimore struggled to run as a team last season. More passing would mean more production for Pitta.

We understand it's risky to consider Pitta as a top-five tight end. He's clearly behind Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas coming into the season. And Fantasy owners trust Vernon Davis, Jason Witten and Jordan Cameron ahead of him based on Average Draft Position in August.

But if you believe in Pitta then this only helps your cause. You can draft him later -- his ADP is No. 75 overall -- and get better results. I have him ranked ahead of Davis, Witten and Cameron at No. 4, and I plan to target Pitta in all leagues.

We'll find out if he can live up to the hype, but I'm willing to gamble on him in Round 7 in a 12-team league. I'm expecting a great season and I like him as a top-five tight end this year.

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Player News
Bears sign DE Austen Lane
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) The Bears have signed defensive end Austen Lane, Pro Football Talk reports.

Lane will fill the roster spot of defensive end Willie Young, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Lane was with the Bears during the preseason but didn't survive the final cuts. He's managed three sacks in 30 career games.


Cardinals' Thomas starts practice 'shaky,' finishes 'pretty strong'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians indicated that Week 17 starting quarterback Logan Thomas was "shaky" at the beginning of Wednesday's practice but finished "pretty strong" as he developed an understanding of where to throw his passes, ESPN.com reports.

"He's worked, fundamentally, extremely hard and gotten much better," Arians said. "But putting those fundamentals to use in the offense, that's two totally different things."

Thomas has just three days of practice before facing the 49ers in a game that has the possibility of landing his team with a first-round bye with a win and help from other results.

"It wasn't the greatest, but as it went on, it got better and better," Thomas added. "It just comes with reps and comes with time."

The Cardinals are a 6-point underdog in San Francisco Sunday.


Seahawks' Russell Okung, Max Unger practice Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (lung) practiced in full Wednesday, while center Max Unger (ankle) was able to return to practice in a limited fashion.

Okung is on track to return in Week 17 after missing last week's game with a bruised lung. Unger hasn't played in any of the team's last five game due to a high ankle sprain. The Seahawks will earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win Sunday, and it's possible Unger suits up for the crucial game.

The Seahawks are a 12 1/2-point favorite at home against the Rams in Week 17.


Raiders QB Derek Carr practices Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was able to practice Wednesday despite dealing with an illness.

"I got here early to work out and see how I would feel during that and after that and I felt pretty good," Carr said at a press conference Wednesday. "So, felt good at practice today, obviously not 100 percent but it felt good to practice and be out here."

Carr has been able to start every game for the Raiders this season, completing 58.6 percent of his passes while racking up 3,112 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Raiders are a 14-point underdog in Denver in Week 17.


Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman practices in full Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman was able to practice in full Wednesday for the first time since suffering a left foot injury on Nov. 9, ESPN.com reports.

"We've had a chance to watch him all week, participate and he's obviously further ahead than he was this time a week ago," head coach John Fox said after Wednesday's practice. "And the fact we're on grass, not on Astroturf, lot of variables, but I like what I see."

Hillman has been able to practice in a limited fashion during the last two weeks but hasn't been active on gameday since the injury occured. The Broncos are a 14-point favorite at home against the Raiders in Week 17.


Falcons RB Steven Jackson (quad) expected to miss Week 17
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Falcons running back Steven Jackson (quad) is not expected to play in Sunday's Week 17 matchup with the Panthers, ESPN.com reports.

Jackson missed practice Wednesday and the team promoted running back Jerome Smith from the practice squad. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman are expected to share the workload in the critical regular-season finale if Jackson is indeed sidelined.

The Falcons are a 4-point favorite at home against the Panthers.


49ers RB Carlos Hyde still sidelined
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) 49ers rookie running back Carlos Hyde missed practice again Wednesday with an ankle injury. He sat out Week 16 and appears likely to miss Sunday's game against Arizona, too.

With Hyde out, veteran Frank Gore went off for 158 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries against San Diego. Gore should see another big workload against the Cardinals.


Michael Crabtree doesn't sound eager to return to 49ers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Impending free-agent receiver Michael Crabtree was asked Wednesday if he wants to return to the 49ers next season. "It depends," Crabtree said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "I don't even want to talk about it."

Crabtree is finishing up a disappointing season. He's played every game but has only 64 catches for 657 yards and four touchdowns, a far cry from the 85 grabs, 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns he put up in his last full season, 2012.


Ravens LT Eugene Monroe bothered by ankle injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Ravens starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who hurt his ankle Week 16 against Houston, missed practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. His status is uncertain for the regular-season finale at Tennessee.

If Monroe can't play, undrafted rookie James Hurst likely would start, the website said.


Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe (shoulder) unable to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe, who sprained his shoulder in last week's loss at Pittsburgh, was unable to practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. Bowe leads Chiefs wideouts with 57 catches for 724 yards.

Kansas City hosts San Diego on Sunday as a 3-point favorite.


 
 
 
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