Juggernaut Index, No. 29: The Baltimore Ravens

The key Ravens are all returning from injuries, attempting to shrug off a 5-win season. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The key Ravens are all returning from injuries, attempting to shrug off a 5-win season. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking and review of NFL teams for fantasy purposes — repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we concern ourselves with a franchise’s likely contributions to the fantasy player pool. We are not concerned with projected wins and losses. Instead, we’re focused on yards and points. As always, we’re beginning with the league’s least useful teams, working our way toward the elite fantasy juggernauts.

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Before tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee last November, Joe Flacco was on pace for the first 4000-yard season of his eight-year NFL career. It would be wrong to suggest, however, that Flacco was actually playing at a high level before the knee injury. He was averaging just 6.8 yards per attempt, he’d thrown nearly as many interceptions (12) as touchdown passes (14), and his rating was only 83.1. The bump in Flacco’s passing yardage was entirely related to an increase in volume. Under offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, Baltimore led the NFL in total pass attempts last season (676) and finished eighth in passing yardage (4271).

Flacco should be recovered and ready to see the field for the start of Ravens training camp according to multiple reports, so no worries there. It’s not as if mobility and explosion have ever been the keys to his game. He’s entering his second year in Trestman’s offense, which is notable because Baltimore hasn’t had the same OC in back-to-back years in seemingly forever. But at this stage in Flacco’s career, we obviously can’t expect him to be a fundamentally different quarterback. If he’s going to flirt with top-16 value at his position, then he needs another season of extreme volume — and he may get it, too. Let’s just keep in mind that he ranked No. 18 among all QBs in per-game fantasy scoring last year, despite attempting over 40 passes per week. He’s never finished as a top-10 QB in our game.

Baltimore’s receiving corps is a mix of old, broken and unimpressive players. Steve Smith was outstanding last season before tearing his right Achilles in Week 8; as of this writing, we can’t say with certainty that he’ll be available in the 2016 opener. Here’s hoping he’s good to go, because he’s an all-time great who’s thisclose to reaching 1000 career receptions (he has 961) and 14,000 receiving yards (13,932). I’m not going to be the person who tells Smith he can’t make it back from a serious injury at age 37. He’s a bad dude. If a draft room is going to give me Smith as a late flier, I’ll gladly take it. We shouldn’t expect to see much (if any) of him in the preseason, but remain attentive to the camp reports.

Steve Smith is an aging all-time great, returning from a significant injury. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Steve Smith is an aging all-time great, returning from a significant injury. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Ravens used a first-round pick on UCF receiver Breshad Perriman last year, and he’s yet to play a meaningful down for the team. He missed last season with knee trouble (PCL), and a separate knee issue has popped up this summer. I won’t fight you for Perriman on draft day. He’s a big receiver (6-foot-2) who had elite speed before the injuries (sub-4.3), but he’s far from a finished product and he had only one big collegiate season (50-1044-9 in 2014). I am aware that a cult of Perriman exists within the fantasy community, but I’m not one of the members.

Mike Wallace signed a two-year deal with Baltimore back in March, at which point most of us gave up on the 2016-2017 Ravens. Wallace was a complete no-show last year for the Vikings, an embarrassment to the good people of the north. He caught just 39 balls in 16 games, visiting the end-zone only twice, then took a shot at his former quarterback on his way out of town. It was a remarkably poor season. He turns 30 in August and hasn’t reached 1000 yards since 2011. It’s fair to say that he’s been burdened by sub-optimal QB play in recent years, so perhaps Flacco can help Wallace rediscover his deep-threat glory days. He’ll need a huge jump in targets (which may happen) if he’s going to reenter the fantasy conversation. Clearly, Wallace can’t be drafted as a top-50 receiver.

When various injuries forced Kamar Aiken into a high-usage role last season, the veteran reserve delivered a useful season for the Ravens, hauling in 75 balls for 944 yards on 127 targets. Aiken isn’t exceptional in any way, necessarily, but he’s more than competent. He isn’t the buzziest player in this team’s receiving corps, yet he should again see plenty of snaps, considering the medical red flags attached to Smith and Perriman. Veteran tight end Ben Watson signed a two-year contract with Baltimore back in March, coming off a surprise career year with the Saints (74-825-6). It’s tough to get too interested in the 35-year-old Watson, however, because the Ravens have a pile-up of tight ends on the roster. Dennis Pitta is reportedly looking like a potential contributor, and both Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore remain in the picture.

Trent Richardson signed with this team in April, a move that was generally greeted with head-shaking and muted laughter. Soon after, Richardson dealt with hamstring issues. More recently, we learned that he needed a knee scope. Richardson has averaged 3.3 yards per carry over the course of a stunningly ordinary NFL career, and he’s been unable to work with Baltimore in the offseason. So no, there’s nothing to see here for fantasy purposes.

Justin Forsett suffered a broken arm last season in the same game in which Flacco was injured, and he too was done for the year. He returns as this team’s presumptive lead runner, but the Ravens used a fourth-round pick on Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, a dynamic multi-threat back. It would be a significant surprise if the 30-year-old Forsett dominated backfield touches for Baltimore with a talented rookie like Dixon in the mix. As a collegiate player, Dixon was absurd. He scored 87 total touchdowns and gained 5452 scrimmage yards over four seasons. He’s not a burner, but he’s an elusive and violent runner. I greatly prefer Dixon at his current ADP (147.2) to Forsett at his (75.1). Buck Allen is still a candidate for touches as well, but I have little interest in him. Allen averaged 3.8 YPC last year and never delivered an 80-yard rushing effort. The ZeroRB crowd seems to like Allen quite a bit, but, again, I’m much more interested in Dixon. Every member of this backfield committee will see targets in Trestman’s offense, so they’re of special interest in PPR formats; Forsett and Allen combined for 76 receptions last season.

Baltimore’s defense generated only 14 takeaways last year, ranking No. 30 in the NFL, so this group wasn’t a particularly useful fantasy entity. Entering 2016, the Ravens have to be viewed as a stream-only D. We’ll be drafting C.J. Mosely and Eric Weddle in IDP leagues, but neither should be among the first defensive players off the board.

All things considered, it’s tough for me to imagine this already-injured squad hanging with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the division. Baltimore is coming off a 5-win campaign, and the team’s offseason looked like a bad 2012 fantasy draft.

2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 20.5 (25)
Pass YPG – 266.9 (8)
Rush YPG – 92.4 (26)
Yards per play – 5.3 (21)
Plays per game – 67.7 (5)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Cleveland, 31) San Francisco, 30) Philadelphia, 29) Baltimore