As the mercury rises and we inch closer to the open of training camps, our resident fantasy football sickos, Brad Evans and Liz Loza, will profile their favorite booms/busts of every NFL team. Today’s topic: The Ravens of Charm City.
After a snooze-inducing 2017, the Ravens have spent the offseason retooling their offensive weapons. So, which player has the most BOOM (return on investment) potential this fall?
Brad – MICHAEL CRABTREE. If Crabtree were a condiment, he would most certainly be a spicy brown mustard. When consumed, ideally on any variety of tubed meat, the overlooked seasoning provides a robust kick. For fantasy purposes, the wide receiver generates a similar reaction.
Crabtree is perpetually underrated. During his days by the Bay he routinely outperformed his ADP, functioning as one of the game’s deadliest red-zone weapons. In four of his past six seasons, he finished No. 21 or better in fantasy points per game in .5 PPR leagues. Over that stretch he also ranked highly in contested catch rate (WR11 in 2016) and end-zone target share (WR2 in 2017). For a quarterback, Joe Flacco, who struggled mightily converting inside the 20 last season (QB31 in RZ cmp%), he’s precisely what the doctor ordered.
Without much competition for looks, particularly on the opponent’s side of the field, Crabtree is more than capable of an 80-catch, 900-yard, 7-9 TD campaign in his Ravens debut. He’s a bargain at his 68.7 ADP (WR30).
Liz – WILLIE SNEAD. Entering 2017, expectations were high for Snead, especially after Brandin Cooks’ departure from the Saints. But a three-game suspension, followed by a persistent hamstring injury, kept the third-year receiver off the field and allowed other players to earn larger roles.
But that doesn’t negate Snead’s ability or talent. Let’s not forget that he posted a 72-895-4 stat line in 2016, demonstrating sticky mitts (catch rate of 69.2 percent) and dominating after the catch (373 yards). Given the Ravens’ lack of pass-catching weapons, Snead figures to get fed. He’s not a prime red zone target, but in PPR friendly formats he could easily see 95 targets on the season.
On the flipside, which player should owners avoid like an outdoor poke stand on a 102 degree day?
Liz – JOHN BROWN. I’ve been a long-time Smokey apologist, but after starting just 11 games over two seasons, it’s hard to imagine him making a major impact in 2018… even on the talent-shallow Ravens. Despite flashing in his sophomore outing, Brown’s receptions, yards, and TD totals have dwindled in back-to-back years. In fact, Brown’s 2015 production outshines his 2016 and 2017 output combined. At this point, it’s tough to believe in a blazer who can no longer blaze (under 100 yards after the catch in 2016 and 2017).
Brad – ALEX COLLINS. After getting thrown to the wolves by Seattle, Collins turned in a breakout 2017 in a second lease on life with the Ravens. Running behind a bottom-10 run-blocking line, he compiled numbers worthy of an RB17 standing in .5 PPR. Whether looking at surface (4.59 ypc) or advanced measurements (top-10 in yards created, total evaded tackles, breakaway run% and YAC per attempt), he thoroughly impressed.
However, I’m reticent he’s truly an RB2 in 12-team leagues as his 52.7 ADP (RB24) suggests. Last year, Collins contributed minimally in the pass game (23 receptions) and, oddly, averaged only 1.9 red-zone touches per game. He should lead the team in workload, but with Kenneth Dixon and Buck Allen very much in the mix, repeating what he achieved a season ago seems far fetched. Don’t overspend.
John Harbaugh has declared that Joe Flacco is the team’s quarterback, but he’s also admitted the team is in the “lab” devising immediate plans for dynamic rookie Lamar Jackson. BELIEVE or MAKE BELIEVE: Jackson replaces Flacco for the last month of the season, effectively ending the Blue Hen’s tenure in the blue crab capital.
Brad – BELIEVE. According to Google Trends, the most searched question in Maryland since 2004: “Is Joe Flacco elite?” The answer: Whether in fantasy or reality, he’s average at best.
There’s a paradigm shift underway in Baltimore. Fans, and likely the Ravens front office, realize the once invincible Flacco is very vulnerable, a sleepy producer whose primary and secondary numbers dipped dramatically last year. What’s most appalling? He hasn’t sniffed 7.0 yards per attempt in a season since 2014. The organization desperately needs a jolt which is why Jackson was selected at No. 32 overall.
Mark it down, the former Heisman winner will overtake Flacco at some point during the double-digit weeks. He’s too athletic. He’s too explosive. He’s too damn exciting. During OTAs, Jackson provided onlookers a sneak peek of what’s to come, dazzling coaches with red-zone strikes and extraordinary running talents. If the Ravens, who currently sport an 8 over/under line on season wins, slough through to Thanksgiving, a changing of the guard is a very possible.
Liz – MAKE BELIEVE. As Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio pointed out on a recent episode of the X’s and Y’s Podcast, Jackson has sky-high dynasty and keeper potential. However, in redraft, he’s a hold. Flacco’s current deal with the Ravens lasts through 2021, but at 33-years-old and after averaging a YPA of under 7.0 for three consecutive seasons, Ozzie & Co. appear to have grown impatient. The franchise could free up $18.5 million in cap space were they to release the former Blue Hen in 2019. Still, this year belongs to the vet.
After all, RG3 is the team’s backup. And it’s foolish to think they didn’t bring him in to groom Jackson. (Though let’s all hope that Robert Griffin refrains from teaching the rookie how to slide.) The fragility of mobile QBs does not appear lost on the Raven’s organization. Applying pressure to Flacco while providing the Louisville product with reps and allowing him to develop via specialty plays is a win-win for Baltimore… even if it’s a bummer for enthusiastic fantasy fans.