From now till Thursday, September 1 — the day of the final preseason games — FantasyLabs is releasing our 2016 team previews: 32 previews in 32 days. Are you ready for some football?
Baltimore Ravens Team Preview
Every team was forced to overcome injuries last season, but none were dealt as many blows as Baltimore. By the end of 2015, the Ravens were without their starting quarterback (Joe Flacco), perennial Pro Bowl pass rusher (Terrell Suggs), two starting wide receivers (Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman), two running backs (Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro), two tight ends (Crockett Gillmore and Dennis Pitta), and the starting left tackle and center (Eugene Monroe and Jeremy Zuttah). Even the 2016 Dodgers felt bad for them.
Prior to last season, the Ravens hadn’t finished below .500 since John Harbaugh replaced Brian Billick as head coach in 2008. A once imposing unit, the defense is now littered with aging players who are unlikely to return to form in 2016, but that might not matter much anyway. Don’t expect Baltimore’s defense to lead while it’s offense takes a bend-but-don’t-break approach. That may have been the mantra in the past, but the 2016 Ravens are clearly built to try to outscore opponents.
Flacco averaged 279 passing yards and 1.4 passing touchdowns through his first 10 games in 2015. He was pacing for 4,466 yards, 22.4 touchdowns, and a career-high 661 passing attempts in his first year with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman before a torn ACL cut his season short in Week 11. Flacco was a tremendous value at DraftKings, averaging a +3.18 Plus/Minus. FanDuel, on the other hand, had him priced entirely too high.
The Ravens won’t throw the ball nearly as much in 2016 as they did last year (64.6 percent, fifth-most in the league), but a top-10 finish in passing percentage seems likely. Trestman’s offenses have finished 16th, seventh, and first in passing attempts over the last three years. Additionally, his play calling assisted Flacco in recording five games with at least 24 DraftKings points. Prior to last year, he never hit that mark more than four times over the course of an entire season.
Baltimore’s revamped receiving corps and another year with Trestman should mean that Flacco in 2016 will pick up where he left off in 2015. If his salaries at DraftKings ($6,700) and FanDuel ($7,000) stay relatively low beyond Week 1, even negative regression in passing attempts won’t stop him from being undervalued in tournaments.
Once thought to be Tom Brady‘s protege, Mallett has more in common with Marc Wilson than with any relevant Patriots quarterback of the last 20 years. In six starts for Houston and Baltimore last season, Mallett averaged 177 passing yards, a 55.4 percent completion rate, and 11.08 DraftKings points.
Baltimore’s three backups each threw for 500-plus yards last year, but for whatever reason the Ravens kept Mallett and let the other two (Jimmy Clausen and Matt Schaub) walk. In the instance that Mallett starts, set your computer on fire before rostering him.
Smith was clearly Flacco’s favorite target until a ruptured achilles tendon ended his season in Week 8. He averaged 10.4 targets and a +6.8 Plus/Minus at DraftKings while healthy. Smith is now a 37-year-old attempting to return early from season-ending surgery, but before the injury he looked like a guy who was much younger. On a points-per-game basis, Smith was the No. 8 DraftKings wide receiver last year. Of course, because he played in only seven games his 2015 season might not be representative, but he was 21st in DraftKings scoring in 2014. Even if he wouldn’t have finished 2015 as the No. 8 receiver if he had played in all 16 games, it’s clear that over the last two seasons Smith has been more than just a viable fantasy receiver.
Basically, even with the injury, he’s not someone you can count out. Smith is seven years older than Baltimore’s second-oldest receiver — he’s the father to Father Time — but his salary at DraftKings ($4,900) and FanDuel ($6,700) in Week 1 are both too low as long as he’s actually healthy to start the season. If there’s anyone who can recover from an achilles rupture and still be himself, it’s Smiff.
Aiken averaged 55.1 offensive snaps while Smith was healthy and 61.2 in nine games without him last year. A slight uptick, sure, but nothing that should’ve effected his production dramatically. That wasn’t the case. Aiken averaged five targets, three receptions, and 36.4 yards in seven games with Smith. Without him, Aiken exploded for an average of 10.2 targets, six receptions, and 76.5 yards. A lot of the targets that had been going to Smith, Aiken was able to assume as the fill-in de facto No. 1 receiver.
Aiken has a chance to remain Baltimore’s No. 2 receiver in 2016 — but the truth is that he was an undrafted five-year veteran who relied on Baltimore’s talent vacuum to fall *ssbackward into 127 targets last year. Even if he is the No. 2 receiver, he almost certainly won’t approach that target total again, not with Mike Wallace (among others) now on the roster and Breshad Perriman just recently activated off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. As he showed in the first seven games last year, there’s a difference between getting snaps and seeing targets. He might get the snaps, but the targets probably won’t be there.
It has been four seasons since Wallace last surpassed 1,000 yards, but Baltimore hopes to rejuvenate whatever skills he has left. Currently listed ahead of Perriman, Wallace is seemingly someone the Ravens hope to rely on if the ‘second-year rookie’ can’t get healthy quickly. Wallace began 2015 as the Vikings’ No. 1 wideout, averaging 48.7 offensive snaps and 12.3 DraftKings points in the four weeks leading up to the Week 5 bye. That’s when Stefon Diggs stole the show, rendering Wallace obsolete for the rest of the year. It’s a long shot, but just maybe Flacco can do his best Ben Roethlisberger impression and light a fire 2011 style under Wallace, who still has the speed to take advantage of Flacco’s big arm.
Once the Ravens were cornered into re-signing Flacco for a historical amount following their Super Bowl victory in February 2013, they had no choice but to let veterans receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith eventually go. Instead, they went out and drafted (what they thought was) a better version of Smith with the 26th pick in 2015.
Perriman has a lot of what scout look for when they evaluate prospects. His 4.30-second 40-yard speed makes him one of the fastest receivers in the league, which is amazing for someone who stands 6’2” and weighs 212 lbs. He also averaged 20.8 and 20.9 yards per catch in his final two seasons at Central Florida. Of course, Perriman was also thought of as extremely raw when he entered the NFL, and his development hasn’t been helped at all by the fact that he missed all of 2015 after suffering a torn PCL in the preseason. He has (apparently) been cleared for Week 1, but for a second-year receiver Perriman is likely to have a very steep learning curve.
Campanaro has played in only eight games since the Ravens drafted him in 2014. Whether you believe in ‘injury prone-ness’ or not, Campanaro undoubtedly has a chance to be placed on Injured Reserve just by walking to his car after practice. Note his draft profile, which lists injuries to his right hamstring, right hand, left ankle, and collarbone (among other ailments) while attending Wake Forest. Baltimore would clearly love to see him flash the skills he showed in prep school when he returned eight kickoffs for touchdowns, but he’ll have to stay healthy to do so.
If he does, he could be a guy who earns targets in the slot almost immediately in a Cole Beasley-esque type of role.
Signing Wallace made little sense to begin with, but it made even less sense after April’s NFL draft. Not only did the Ravens re-sign Aiken, but they then went out and drafted Moore in the fourth round. If Wallace can’t return to form and Perriman isn’t ready, then Baltimore would likely use Moore on deep routes instead. He amassed 70 catches and 15 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons at Cincinnati, averaging a whopping 22.1 yards/reception. His straight line speed (4.53-second 40-yard dash) isn’t all too promising, but the Ravens won’t ask much of him, anyhow. As long as he can run along the sideline, Moore could receive an opportunity (albeit a small one) sometime this season.
Forsett re-upped for three years, $9 million dollars with Baltimore last offseason after setting career highs in carries (235), rushing yards (1,266), rushing touchdowns (eight), targets (59), and catches (44) in 2014. Regression was imminent, but Forsett appeared lifeless in 2015. He averaged 4.2 yards/carry as a 30-year-old, his lowest average since 2011. And at 5’8” and 190 lbs., Forsett was frequently replaced at the goal line.
What’s more is that Forsett was pitiful in Baltimore’s passing offense. With Trestman calling plays as his head coach in 2013 and 2014, Matt Forte averaged seven targets, 5.5 receptions, and 43.8 receiving yards per game. Forsett averaged 15.3 receiving yards, the fewest yards among the 28 runners who averaged at least 3.4 targets per game. Forsett’s injury last year might’ve been the only one that actually benefited the team.
Harbaugh apparently intends to stick with Forsett in his 31-year-old season, but it’s anyone’s guess how long that lasts — especially with a talented surge of youth breathing down his neck.
‘Don’t Call Me Javorius’ Allen averaged 0.2 fewer targets per game than Forsett did last year, but he finished with 200 more receiving yards in only six more games. He wasn’t all too efficient on the ground (3.8 yards per carry) and, quite frankly, he was awful inside the red zone (one score on 20 carries), but he provided much more value at DraftKings than Forsett. Once the latter was ruled out for the year in Week 11 with a fractured forearm, only four backs averaged more DraftKings points than Allen the rest of the way.
As it stands, Baltimore’s backfield appears to be a three-headed monster, ensuring that each runner will limit the production of the others. If, however, Forsett were to miss any time then Allen’s volume and sheer pass-catching ability would keep him relevant in every format.
Many thought that Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore’s fourth-round pick this season, fell too far in the draft. That still might be true, but if the preseason is any indication he’s still behind West on Baltimore’s depth chart. In the team’s first two preseason games, West has worked ahead of Dixon, sometimes even with Baltimore’s first-string offense. West was primarily used once Forsett went down last season, averaging eight rushing attempts per game starting in Week 11. He hasn’t been much of a pass catcher in the NFL, but it’s possible that he could carve out a not insubstantial role as the team’s goal-line back.
Dixon was the equivalent of a video game in Beginner Mode at Louisiana Tech, rushing for 3,289 yards and 45 scores in his final three seasons. Although he was just drafted by Baltimore in April, he arguably might be the best back for Trestman’s system. In his junior and senior seasons, Dixon averaged 31.5 catches, 424.5 receiving yards, 6.5 touchdowns receiving, and 13.4 yards per reception. Given his size (5’10” and 215 lbs.), rushing ability, receiving skills, and goal-line expertise, Dixon could be a complete multi-purpose workhorse for Trestman if the Ravens ever give him an opportunity to touch the ball.
To borrow from The Big Lebowski: “This is what happens when you . . .”
Watson is expected to miss the entire regular season with a torn achilles suffered in the preseason. It’s questionable whether or not he can even return and be productive in 2017 as a rehabbing 37-year-old. (Of course, Smiff would disagree.) Fortunately, Baltimore is stacked with young and formidable tight ends ready to take Watson’s place.
Gillmore was sidelined with a calf strain early in 2015 before a strained back eventually ended his season in Week 13. In the 10 games he played prior to injury, though, he flashed the skills that made Baltimore draft him in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft. Standing at 6’6” and 260 lbs., Crockett converted three of his nine red-zone targets into touchdowns. While healthy, he averaged 41.2 receiving yards and 10.1 DraftKings points per game. With Gillmore’s explosiveness and willingness to block, he’ll likely start the year ahead of Maxx Williams.
Rookie tight ends historically don’t do so well, but Williams was given a full trial run once Gillmore went out for the year. The second-rounder from Minnesota averaged 63.3 snaps in the last three games of the season and recorded 13 catches for 100 yards in that span.
Williams was a star of the 2015 combine, finishing as a top performer at the position in the 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jumps, and 20-yard shuttle. Gillmore will still likely be the team’s go-to tight end in the red zone, but Williams (6’4” and 249 lbs.) is monstrous in his own right. Baltimore should constantly unleash both players in two-tight end sets this season, giving Williams a chance to overtake Gillmore at any point throughout the year.
Pitta has 99 problems and skills ain’t one. Unfortunately, injuries are. Since the second half of 2012, he has appeared on 33 injury reports and missed nearly two full seasons. He practiced successfully and reportedly looked great in training camp this season before fracturing his finger in a fight with rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa. Now 31 years old, Pitta dreams of a resurgence comparable to Watson’s last season.
As was the case with the Dallas Cowboys, so many things went horribly wrong for the Ravens last year that they all can’t possibly happen again. They went 5-9 in one-score games and lost numerous players on offense at some point throughout the year. Just by staying healthy and giving Harbaugh (one of the best at his position) a pass for their 5-11 mishap, the Ravens should easily exceed their 8.5 win total.
The Ravens’ schedule is also favorable this season. Through the first seven weeks, Baltimore faces only one opponent that finished with a top-10 Defense-Adjusted Value over Average (DVOA) last year. With positive regression to the mean, numerous players returning from injury, a bulked-up offense, and fortuitous matchups, the Ravens will make their fans forget 2015 as they compete for a division title in 2016.