Before we begin, here's a semi-interesting related note: The Ravens may only rank No. 12 in this series, but it turns out this team's home city rates much, much higher in a more important fantasy index. Yahoo! researchers have determined, using both internal and publicly available market data, that Baltimore is the NFL market with the greatest concentration of fantasy players per capita. I'm not even making this up. (Don't ask me for additional details. I'm not the Research Dept. There's gonna be a press release). Apparently, one in 31 people in Baltimore are playing fantasy football — and for that, we thank you. You're helping in the effort to keep Brad Evans off the streets, a huge win for us all.
Now let's get to the team preview...
If you want to take Ray Rice first overall in your draft, whether you play standard or PPR settings, I'm not gonna argue.
Rice has topped 2,000 scrimmage yards in two of the past three seasons, he led his team in receptions last year (76), and he found the end zone 15 times. He was the top overall fantasy scorer at his position in 2011, finishing third in per-game scoring. Rice is just 25 years old and he doesn't miss games, so you can't be unusually worried about a breakdown. Now that he's dominating the carries when Baltimore ventures into the red zone, there are really no holes in his game. He's an almost perfect fantasy weapon, no matter your league settings. This guy is a building block.
In fact, if Rice isn't selected in the first half of the first round of your draft, then you probably need to find a more competitive league. I've really got nothing bad to say about Ray Rice — and this doesn't happen with many players, so I hope he's appreciative.
Third-round rookie Bernard Pierce figures to be Rice's handcuff, if you're into that sort of thing. Based on his college clips, Pierce definitely looks the part of a feature back — here, judge for yourself. He hasn't really generated much off-season buzz, however, as he's dealt with hamstring issues. Pierce gained 1,481 yards on 273 carries for Temple last season (5.4 YPC), breaking the plane 27 times. But he only caught three passes all year (19 in his collegiate career), so there's little reason to believe he could be a full-workload replacement for Rice. It would have to be a deep, deep league before I'd take this 'cuff. Undrafted rookie Bobby Rainey looks like the No. 3 back at the moment.
Joe Flacco established a new career-high in pass attempts last season by a mile (542) yet he didn't reach a personal best in any other major stat. So that's not great. He actually completed a career low 57.6 percent of his throws at just 6.7 yards per attempt, while posting the lowest TD total (20) since his rookie season. This year, we'll see more no-huddle/hurry-up offense from Baltimore, placing new responsibilities on the quarterback. Flacco could perhaps make a leap in fantasy value, but keep in mind that he finished nowhere near the leaders at his position last season. He ranked just 17th at his position in public league scoring in 2011, more than 60 points behind the guy who finished ninth (Rivers). Thus, he's not getting drafted in every league and his ADP (138.9) places him beyond guys like Palmer, Dalton and Freeman. I haven't yet selected him anywhere, so I'm in no position to argue on his behalf.
(Would we all think differently of Flacco if Lee Evans could have just held onto this exceptional throw? Yeah, maybe we would. That's hardly fair, but there it is).
Receiver Torrey Smith is certainly a player of interest entering his second season. He was a terrific vertical threat as a rookie — Rams defensive backs are still having nightmares — and, if his head coach can be believed, he's going to be a monster in 2012. This from the Carroll County Times:
"He's the most efficient improver, if that's a word, I've ever seen," [John] Harbaugh said. "He gets the most out of every day and that's why I think he's going to be a great player."
Harbaugh added, "[Smith's] route-running's improved. He's improved his hands. He's improved with understanding the blitz package, when he's hot and when he's not. He's improved down-field with his blocking. Really, everything has gotten better."
Smith had been sidelined briefly in camp with an ankle injury, but he's back on the field, ready to break out. Smith is drafted as only a fringe third receiver in fantasy (ADP 74.7, WR30), but he could easily outperform his price tag. Flacco has enough arm to reach Smith, no matter how deep he runs.
Anquan Boldin is typically drafted 20-25 picks later than Smith, where you'll find all the other receivers who are likely to post 65-840-5 fantasy lines. He'll presumably work the middle of the field for the Ravens, with Smith and new arrival Jacoby Jones on the outside. Jones has proven himself to be something of a big-play specialist, a guy who can deliver an annual highlight, yet isn't a recommended weekly play. Depth chart wideout LaQuan Williams generated some low-level OTA buzz, but so do lots of players who disappear in September. Williams isn't on the radar in leagues of standard size; this offense can only support so many ownable pass-catchers.
Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta each have receiving talent, and their combined numbers last season (94-933-8) could have really helped fantasy owners had they been delivered by a single tight end. But at such a loaded position, neither Dickson nor Pitta needs to be drafted in 12-team leagues. You'll use 'em as bye-week coverage, but it's tough to project either as a consistent starter. Plus both of them are recovering from slight dings, so we cannot grade them in gem-mint condition right now.
The Baltimore defense was dealt a significant blow during the offseason, when Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs suffered an Achilles injury. Suggs may return late in the year if all goes well, but you can't expect him to be the same difference-maker that we're used to seeing, at least not right away. The Ravens' D will feel the loss of linebacker Jarrett Johnson, too, as he signed with San Diego back in March. Still, Ray Lewis mans the middle (slower than he used to, but he's there) with Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed at safety, and Haloti Ngata anchoring the line. This remains a draft-worthy defense, a group that ranked third in the NFL in both points and yards allowed last season (16.6, 288.9). They're no longer the first D off the board in fantasy drafts, but they won't be the last, either.
2011 team stats: 23.6 PPG (NFL rank 12), 124.8 rush YPG (10), 226.8 pass YPG (19), 31.20 yards/drive (14), 0.122 turnovers/drive (15)
Previous Juggernaut posts: 32. Miami, 31. St. Louis, 30. Indianapolis, 29. Jacksonville, 28. Cleveland, 27. Arizona, 26. Seattle, 25. Minnesota, 24. Tampa Bay, 23. Buffalo, 22. New York Jets, 21. Washington, 20. Oakland, 19. San Francisco, 18. Kansas City, 17. Cincinnati, 16. Denver, 15. Tennessee, 14. San Diego, 13. Pittsburgh