Juggernaut Index, No. 28: The Ravens exist to get fantasy owners through byes
Let’s begin by stating that the Baltimore Ravens, in all likelihood, are not going to be terrible in 2017. This team has a quality defense, year-to-year continuity in the coaching staff and depth at key spots. Baltimore has experienced only one losing season in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era, and Vegas pegs the Ravens as a 9-win squad for 2017. In a traditional NFL power ranking, we’d slot Baltimore solidly in the top half of the league, somewhere in the 11-to-14 range.
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But this exercise is obviously not a traditional NFL power ranking. Around here, we care primarily about a team’s fantasy relevance in the season ahead — yards, points and draft-worthy players. And that’s where things get messy for this group. The only upper-tier fantasy asset on this roster is the kicker, Justin Tucker. No other Ravens are selected among the top-100 picks in standard Yahoo drafts, nor should they be. Marty Mornhinweg returns as OC following a season in which his offense did nothing well. Fantasy-wise, there’s not much to see here.
So you’re saying Joe Flacco is less than elite.
Baltimore ranked first in the league in pass attempts last season (679), but just 12th in net passing yards (4100) and 21st in passing touchdowns (20). That’s brutal. Flacco averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt, tossing 15 interceptions and posting a career-low TD percentage (3.0). He actually finished with the fifth highest single-season attempt total in league history (672), yet he ranked 20th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks. Over nine NFL seasons, Flacco has zero top-10 positional finishes. He’s purely a backup in our game. His average draft position in Yahoo leagues reflects his low statistical ceiling (125.1). Honestly, drafting Flacco at any spot feels like an act of total surrender.
Three significant members of last year’s receiving corps are no longer in the team picture for the Ravens. Steve Smith Sr. retired after 16 brilliant seasons, Kamar Aiken relocated to Indianapolis via free agency and Dennis Pitta suffered another hip dislocation during the offseason. Unfortunately, Pitta’s injury could be a career-ender. The departure of those three vets will leave 272 targets up for grabs in Baltimore.
Mike Wallace is back, coming off a year in which he reached 1000 receiving yards for the first time since 2011. Wallace finished second on this team in both targets (117) and receptions (72) in 2016. He was annoyingly quiet in the second-half of the season, failing to find the end-zone or reach 65 receiving yards in any of Baltimore’s final eight games. At 30, Wallace’s best seasons are almost certainly behind him, but he’s still likely to produce WR3/WR4 numbers for the year, assuming good health. If you can land him at or near his current draft price (123.9), he’ll deliver an easy profit. He’s best used as a field-stretcher, not unlike the Ravens’ bookend outside receiver, Breshad Perriman.
If you’re targeting Perriman in fantasy drafts, I won’t fight you for him. He caught three balls for 64 yards in his best game last year. Perriman is a burner with sub-4.3 timed speed, but we’re all still waiting for a notable performance. He was a high-buzz player throughout OTAs, for what it’s worth…
Flacco on Perriman: “listen, you can just see the confidence in his eyes.”
— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiecsun) June 13, 2017
…which seems to have excited the expert community. Personally, I can’t believe he’s being drafted so close to Wallace (ADP 129.4). Obviously there’s little risk attached if you’re selecting him outside the first 10 rounds, but he enters the year as the No. 3 receiving option in a low-yield offense.
Jeremy Maclin signed with the Ravens not long after he was released by the Chiefs, and he’s clearly in line for a significant workload. He’ll do most of his work from the slot, where he’s been highly productive in recent seasons. Maclin produced back-to-back 1000-yard campaigns in 2014 and 2015, but injuries derailed his 2016 season. Tyreek Hill’s emergence made him expendable in KC and Baltimore had a glaring need for receiving talent, so here we are. Maclin is a strong candidate to lead this team in targets, catches and receiving TDs. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he delivered a 75-900-6 fantasy line in a healthy year. Maclin, like most Ravens, is available outside the top 120 picks in standard drafts (128.5).
Replacing Pitta will require a group effort from this team’s various tight ends, all of whom are returning from injuries. For Ben Watson, it was an Achilles. For Maxx Williams, a knee. With Crockett Gillmore, it was a medley of issues (back, thigh, hamstring). Former fifth-rounder Nick Boyle will see snaps as well. You can’t draft anyone from this group, except in 20-team leagues.
When the Ravens are running…
Baltimore’s offense was ludicrously imbalanced last year, attempting 312 more passes than runs. This team ranked 30th in total rush attempts (367), averaging a modest 4.0 YPC. Kenneth Dixon showed promise in his first pro season, particularly as a receiving threat, but he’ll be sidelined for the first four games of 2017 for violating the league’s policy on PEDs. Four games is an eternity in the NFL (and in fantasy); you cannot draft a committee back who’s facing a four-game suspension. Dixon is off the board for me in leagues of standard size. Brad still loves him like a pet.
Terrance West led this team in rushing last year, gaining 774 yards on 193 carries (4.0 YPC) and rushing for five scores. He also delivered his most productive season as a pass-catching, hauling in 34 balls for 236 yards on 45 targets. No one ever called West a special talent by NFL standards, but he’s plenty capable of gaining every yard that’s blocked and functioning as a dependable committee member. With Dixon out of the mix in the season’s first month, West should dominate early-down and goal-line rush attempts. West handled 10 carries inside the 10-yard line last year, while Dixon saw just two.
Still, Terrance is hardly an ideal starting fantasy option in 12-team leagues. Baltimore’s O-line wasn’t anything special last season, and, as of this writing, the team has a glaring need at right tackle following Rick Wagner’s departure.
Danny Woodhead was the big offseason addition to this backfield, and he’ll immediately slide into a substantial short-range receiving role. So that’s yet another issue for Dixon. Woodhead is 32 years old and returning from an ACL tear, but there have been no negative notes about his recovery. He’s expected to be without restrictions in training camp. Flacco seems pleased with the new weapon:
“Ever since we lost Ray [Rice], we haven’t had the type of back quite like Ray was and quite like Danny is in the passing game,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “They just have a very good feel for when they’re open, how to get open, how to sit in holes, how to find my eyes.”
Woodhead has caught over 75 passes in two of the past four seasons, but he missed nearly all of 2014 and 2016 due to injuries. If he remains upright for Baltimore, you can assume he’ll again have a high-volume receiving role, making him an underpriced player in PPR formats (ADP 119.1). He’s much more than simply a four-week placeholder for Dixon; Woodhead’s full-season role actually seems more secure than that of any other Ravens back. It’s unlikely he’ll see more than 75-80 handoffs, though he’ll see plenty of snaps in goal-to-go scenarios.
We still like Baltimore’s defense, right?
No question. The Ravens fielded a respectable D last season, ranking top-10 against both the pass and run while allowing only 20.1 points per game. The front office then aggressively enhanced the defense in the offseason, both via free agency and the draft. All four of Baltimore’s picks in Rounds 1-3 were defensive players, including Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey, the No. 16 overall selection. Humphrey joins a secondary that features quality IDPs Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs belong in your IDP plans as well. For those of you who pass on the Ds at the top of the ranks, the Ravens are a reasonable late option (ADP 122.5).
If it feels like this team rules Rounds 11-13 in fantasy drafts … well, yeah. Eight different Baltimore fantasy assets have ADPs between 119.1 (Woodhead) and 129.4 (Perriman). It’s a team that should feed your bench, ideally, not your starting roster.
2016 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 21.4 (21)
Pass YPG – 256.3 (12)
Rush YPG – 91.4 (28)
Yards per play – 5.2 (24)
Plays per game – 67.4 (5)
Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) NY Jets, 31) San Francisco, 30) Cleveland, 29) LA Rams, 28) Baltimore