Offseason Primers: Baltimore Ravens
A change in offensive coordinators combined with some incredible passes from Joe Flacco propelled the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2012.
A change in salary cap space because of Flacco's NFL-record extension meant changes across the roster. Along with five defensive starters leaving the team, the Ravens sent sure-handed receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers via trade in a move that saved some of their cap space. It's tough decisions like this that could keep the Ravens from being as successful in 2013.
The offense has some questions at receiver but none at running back, where Ray Rice is about as sure as things can be. Totaling over 1,500 yards for the fourth straight year and collecting 10 total touchdowns for the second straight season, Rice delivered over 100 total yards eight times and totaled 10-plus Fantasy points in standard leagues 11 times in the 15 games he legitimately played in. Down the stretch in 2012 we did see Bernard Pierce take some carries away from Rice, including 21 carries in the AFC title game and Super Bowl XLVII combined. Perhaps that was done to ease Rice's workload, a smart move considering he put on 318 total touches in the regular season and another 92 in the postseason.
|Ray Rice||318 (257 car., 61 rec.)||41.8%|
|Bernard Pierce||115 (108 car., 7 rec.)||15.1%|
|Anquan Boldin||66 (65 rec., 1 car.)||8.7%|
|Dennis Pitta||61 rec.||8.0%|
|Torrey Smith||52 (49 rec., 3 car.)||6.8%|
|Jacoby Jones||31 (30 rec., 1 car.)||4.1%|
Could the Rice-Pierce dynamic bleed into 2013? Perhaps, though with Rice still continuing to be an effective weapon we doubt it will hurt his production much. In fact, if the Ravens determine that their passing attack isn't what it was when they won the title last year, we could see them lean on both backs more. Remember, they're down a viable starting receiver and finding a player to step up in place of Boldin, who led the team with 112 targets last year and has been the leading receiver the past three years, is vital if they want to keep averaging 24.9 points per game like they did last regular season. Rice is a nice Top 10 pick, though he'll have to fight the dreaded Super Bowl hangover to reach big numbers again. The smart move would then be to spend a Round 9 pick on Bernard Pierce as a handcuff to Rice in case he struggles.
But the onus of this team will fall on Flacco, who is now the highest-paid player in league history. With Ray Lewis retiring, the time has come for Flacco to lead this team. Plus, the Ravens tend to find ways to stay competitive -- they haven't had a losing season since John Harbaugh and Flacco came to town in 2008 -- but it could take some creative manuevering from play caller Jim Caldwell for them to stay elite. In the past we've been concerned with Caldwell's work, but after what he did with Flacco last season, not anymore.
As for the Ravens defense, a number of starters walked out the door, but the team diligently filled holes with the likes of Elvis Dumervil , Michael Huff , Marcus Spears and Chris Canty . That leaves fewer holes than anticipated, but there's still the issue of replacing Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe . But, if the Ravens are as smart as their track record suggests, they shouldn't have much of a problem there.
Torrey Smith -- Breakout
We're turning to Smith as a breakout candidate for the second season in a row, primarily because of the departure of Anquan Boldin along with the receiver maturing enough in his second season to translate into a gamebreaker in his third. His stats were consistent from 2011 to 2012 -- he scored one more touchdown and had 14 more yards receiving on one fewer catch. What wasn't consistent was how he delivered those stats; he had six games with 10 or more Fantasy points and nine with six Fantasy points or less. That boom-or-bust nature happened in part because of a lack of consistent targets (he had just 110) and a lack of consistent receiving skills (he caught just 44.5 pct. of those targets). But who else can step up in this offense? Joe Flacco needs Smith to have a big year for the Ravens to be effective. Getting him in Round 7 or Round 8 as a No. 3 receiver should pay off.
Jacoby Jones -- Bust
The Ravens figure to lean on their postseason hero a little more in 2013. You can ask the Texans how that worked out for them when they gave Jones an opportunity. Jones has never had more than even 600 yards receiving in a year and only once caught six touchdowns in a campaign (he had one regular-season receiving touchdown last year before hauling in two in the postseason). So while he's got some great speed and has gained some notoriety with his dancing skills, he's really never been a great option for Fantasy play. Even with a boost in playing time there's just too much risk in drafting Jones. If he proves us wrong at least you know to pick him up early off the waiver wire.
Joe Flacco -- Value proposition
|Joe Flacco||110-120 overall|
|Ray Rice||6-10 overall|
|Torrey Smith||85-95 overall|
|Dennis Pitta||90-100 overall|
|Justin Tucker||Late-round pick|
|Ravens DST||Final-round pick|
You'd think after winning a Super Bowl that Flacco would get some respect in Fantasy circles, but it's not really happening. Flacco watched as young guys with fast legs racked up more Fantasy points last year and the mob mentality of following the hot players will push those names ahead of Flacco in drafts. But owners could pull off a sweet double dip and get one of those young runners and Flacco on Draft Day. After all, Flacco finished last season with 20 or more Fantasy points in seven of eight games including the postseason -- all games with new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. And if you remove his meaningless Week 17 game, Flacco averaged a precise 18.0 Fantasy points per game in the regular season. If you figure Flacco's floor is that 18-point average, he's a pretty safe bet with a pick in Round 9 or 10 as a backup quarterback and quasi-insurance policy if you take a young gun with an early- to middle-round pick.