NEW ORLEANS -- Is Dennis Pitta the most underrated player taking part in Super Bowl XLVII?
The Baltimore tight end certainly has to be in the conversation. Pitta has 10 catches and a pair of touchdowns this postseason, after making 61 grabs and scoring seven times during the regular season. At a position dominated by the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham, though, Pitta's consistently improving play has flown under the radar.
But the 49ers have taken notice.
"Pitta is starting to emerge as a top guy for them," 49ers defensive back Donte Whitner said. "He’s getting behind the defense, he’s scoring in the red zone, and he’s becoming just a reliable, all-around guy for them -- developing into a top tight end in the National Football League."
More and more, Pitta looks like an ideal fit at tight end in Baltimore's passing game. The Ravens, behind Joe Flacco's strong arm, love to work the field vertically.
That's a perfect approach for Pitta.
"It's always nice to be able to stretch downfield a little bit," Pitts said. "Seam routes, vertical routes -- get some big chunk plays, which are huge for the offense."
Pitta deemed the corner route his favorite to run -- there, a receiver runs straight up the field, then breaks out slightly toward the corner of the end zone. It's the type of route that, when run properly by a tight end against a linebacker or safety in coverage, can be impossible to defend.
"I think he's always had that talent, obviously," Ravens tight ends coach Wade Harman said of Pitta. "He's getting better, learning what we're doing, understanding defenses, learning how to spread his routes.
"I think he's got a good relationship with Joe, and when (defenses) take somebody away outside ... it benefits people inside."
Pitta may be particularly dangerous Sunday against a 49ers' defense that loves to play aggressively in the front seven. Flacco figures to take his shots with Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, as he's done all season.
But Pitta could be a serious X-factor.
"When you have great guys around you, it makes your job much easier," Pitta said. "Safeties have to play a lot deeper and account for those guys.
"Playing this team, you have to be aggressive. You have to have big plays and play aggressive downfield."