Fantasy Football 32: Baltimore Ravens

Torrey Smith
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

 

A time machine. Yep, a time machine would be nice right now.

2012 seems like forever ago. The Baltimore Ravens were hoisting the Lombardi trophy, their players were staying out of trouble and all was good. An 8-8 campaign after winning it all was very, very disheartening, and an atrocious offensive line and inept rushing game were the main reasons why. It was so incredibly ugly for the Ravens that it can only get better in 2014, right?

Right?

Depth Chart

Ravens Depth Chart

Quarterback

So, wait. You’re telling me that Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl MVP?

Alrighty then…

The big-framed quarterback took a massive step back in 2013, tossing just 19 touchdowns (18th) and 22 interceptions (2nd). And if there is one thing that Flacco had been consistent in is– his inconsistency. Last season, Flacco posted a consistency rating of just 12.5 percent, the third-lowest among all qualified quarterbacks, meaning he finished as a top-12 fantasy passer in just two weeks. Two. Meanwhile, in 2012, he was a little bit better, posting a consistency rating of 37.5 percent. And what makes it even more annoying for the six fantasy players in the world who owned Flacco was the fact that he made high-upside plays for you, but was so, so bad.

Last year, Flacco led all quarterbacks in passing attempts traveling 20 yards 0r more (88), according to PFF. He attempted one of those passes 14.3 percent of the time, but was accurate on just 26.1 percent of those passes, good for the worst percentage among qualified passers. Meanwhile, according to ESPN, Flacco’s 3.9 vertical fantasy points per game ranked 30th among fantasy signal callers, and he finished dead last in vertical yards per attempt (8.9). He was much better in this regard for the first five seasons of his career, completing 39 percent of his deep passes, compared to just 28 a season ago (via Matthew Berry). Flacco is obviously not a starting fantasy quarterback, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable streaming him unless the matchup is ideal and he is in the comfy confines of his own home.

Home/Road

Home Road

And, using the RotoViz Game Splits App, I took a look at Flacco’s fantasy performance against both top-10 pass defenses, as well as bottom-10 secondaries. Most streaming passers are at least serviceable against top-tier defenses, but Flacco seems to falter.

Flacco

Running Back

How the mighty have fallen.

A clear-cut first round pick for years, Ray Rice is currently going through a rough patch, and his fantasy forecast is cloudy with a chance of suspension. Coming off a putrid season in 2013, Rice is now dealing with legal matters that should result in a rather lengthy suspension for the start of the 2014 campaign. That in itself is troubling, but even if Rice weren’t in legal trouble, he’d still be in trouble for fantasy purposes.

Last year, the Ravens running game was among the worst in all of football. The offensive line was absolutely terrible, ranking 24th in the league in run-blocking, according to PFF. Rice and company had little room to work with, as the Ravens led the league in rushes of zero yards or fewer. Rice went on to average a horrid 3.1 yards per clip, by far the lowest of his career. Prior to last season, Rice had never averaged fewer than four yards per carry, so it was odd to see him struggle to get it going. Rice saw a major Super Bowl hangover, too. In 2012, when Baltimore won it all, Rice finished with a strong 410 total touches, and, as Jamey Eisenberg points out, running backs to eclipse 400 touches tend to tail off during the following season. Over the past 10 seasons, there were 27 running backs to post 400 total touches, and only five improved on their fantasy production during the following year. Rice clearly fell off, seeing a net difference of 86 fantasy points. And, prior to last year, Rice has actually eclipsed 400 touches in two straight seasons, so perhaps his body is wearing down a bit, too. He did deal with a hip injury for some time last year, after all.

Then there’s Bernard Pierce, who is an intriguing name to watch if Rice is in fact suspended. It isn’t out of the question that if Pierce is productive in Rice’s absence, he could run away with the starting job. But it’s still that same offensive line, which, granted, should be better, especially with the acquisition of Eugene Monroe. Pierce struggled last year, too, averaging an ugly 2.9 yards per carry.

Wide Receiver

It’s going to happen sooner or later, and when it does, it’ll be insane.

I’m talking about the breakout of wide receiver Torrey Smith, of course, who has yet to hit his ceiling in fantasy football. He did take strides in 2013, catching a career-high 65 balls (15 more than previous high), along with his first 1,000 yard season in the league. And, via ESPN, Smith’s 17.4 yards per catch ranked third in the league among wideouts with at least 50 grabs, only behind Josh Gordon and Calvin Johnson.

Pretty elite company, no?

But, the question remains, can Smith take that leap into WR1 territory? Last year, he was the 22nd-best scoring fantasy wide receiver, but he can do more. He needs to be more consistent, finishing as a wide receiver one just 37.5 percent of the time last year. His value did hinge on the ugly deep ball from Flacco last year, but the more Smith expands his route tree, the more consistent he’ll be as a receiver. Last year, Smith had just 39 catches of 10 yards or less, ranking 71st in the league. We all know what he can do with the deep ball, and so do the Ravens, as no receiver in football was targeted more on stretch vertical throws than Smith (34). So 26 percent of the time Smith got a look from Flacco, it was 20 yards or more down the field. The big play potential has always been there, and if he can develop into a more well-rounded receiver, the sky is the limit.

He is just 25-years old and is entering that magical contract year, after all.

Tight End

If you’re not all in on Dennis Pitta this year, you’re just doing it wrong.

After both fracturing and dislocating his hip during camp, Pitta missed 12 games, but when he returned, he was pretty darn productive. In fact, during the four games he played, Pitta was targeted 33 times, making for 8.25 per contest. Flacco absolutely loves Pitta, and he will probably lead the Ravens in receptions this year, barring injury, of course. Pitta was already pegged to breakout last year before injury, and now, under a new offensive coordinator, the mood hasn’t changed.

Thank you, Gary Kubiak.

According to Matthew Berry, only four teams in the league have targeted the tight end more from 2006 to 2013 than Kubiak’s Texans. And, per Rich Hribar of XN Sports, tight ends have accounted for 40.8 percent of all Texans touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line during Kubiak’s time in Houston. And over the last three seasons, no team in the league has utilized more two-tight end sets than the Texans. Sure, Owen Daniels is in the mix, but I see him as more of the blocking tight end, while Pitta will line up out of the slot more often.

And, while Anquan Boldin was gone last year, too, Pitta wasn’t really there, so his absence will help, as the two tended to eat at each other’s production.

Pitta

Pitta should be drafted as a top-seven tight end, at the least, and watch him dominate the Ravens offense.

Adam Pfeifer is a lead fantasy sports writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.