Ravens Fantasy Preview

Jesse Pantuosco
Rotoworld

2018 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,999 yards (9th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 37 (20th)
Offensive Plays: 1,135 (1st)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 588 (18th)
Rush Attempts: 547 (1st)
Unaccounted for Targets: 296 (2nd)
Unaccounted for Carries: 195 (5th)

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Coaching Staff

Countless coaches have come and gone, but for over a decade John Harbaugh has been a constant in Baltimore. First hired in 2008 after cutting his teeth as the Eagles’ special teams coordinator under Andy Reid, Harbaugh enters 2019—his 12th season in Charm City—as the league’s fourth-longest tenured head coach behind only Bill Belichick, Sean Payton and Mike Tomlin. Harbaugh’s job was in relative jeopardy heading into last year but he’s no longer on the hot seat after signing a four-year extension this offseason. The Ravens reached the postseason for the seventh time under Harbaugh, erasing a four-year playoff drought in the process. 2018 also represented the Ravens’ first division title since 2012, which coincidentally was the year Baltimore won its last Super Bowl (Harbaugh defeated his brother, then-49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, in that meeting of the minds). 

While most coaches get their start in the offensive or defensive coordinator ranks, Harbaugh is one of the rare leading men in the NFL who comes from a special teams background. Strong defense has been a staple of his Ravens reign, but Harbaugh’s most defining characteristic as a coach has been his adaptability. Not long ago, Baltimore was one of the most pass-centric teams in football, leading the league with 679 pass attempts in 2016. But Harbaugh, a chameleon if there ever was one, adjusted to the Ravens’ personnel, catering the offense to Lamar Jackson’s strengths in 2018 as Baltimore became a ball-control team, leading the NFL in both rushing attempts and time of possession. Harbaugh insists the Ravens won’t run Jackson into the ground the way they did last season—he averaged an exhausting 17 carries over his seven starts. But given the team’s deep backfield, Jackson’s own prodigious rushing ability and Baltimore’s relative dearth of receiving weapons, expect Harbaugh to again favor a run-first approach in 2019. 

Outside of Harbaugh, the Ravens return Don Martindale (he succeeded Dean Pees as defensive coordinator a year earlier) while Greg Roman was promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator, replacing Marty Mornhinweg, who had served in that capacity since 2016. A long-time assistant with 14 years of NFL coaching experience, Martindale comes from a linebacker background and favors a 3-4 defensive scheme. Roman’s last stint as an NFL coordinator ended in a midseason firing, though he was essentially scapegoated by Bills coach Rex Ryan, who only lasted a few more months in Orchard Park before getting axed himself.  

Passing Game

QB: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III

WR: Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin

WR: Willie Snead, Seth Roberts 

WR: Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley

TE: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst

The Ravens were initially reluctant to turn their offense over to Jackson last season, preferring to sprinkle the rookie in as a wildcat QB/gadget player in the realm of Taysom Hill. He wasn’t particularly effective in this capacity—Jackson’s presence was a giant tell, alerting teams that the Ravens were running it. Who knows if Harbaugh actually would have had the courage to bench Joe Flacco on his own accord, but luckily the decision was made for him when the former Super Bowl MVP went down with a hip injury in Week 9, opening the door for Jackson to see his first NFL start the following week. The rest is history—Jackson went 6-1 the rest of the way and Flacco, who was traded to Denver in the offseason for a fourth-round pick, never played another down for the Ravens.

After Flacco’s injury, the Ravens took a time portal back to the ‘50s, flouting the NFL’s pass-first mandate by giving the league a heavy dose of ground-and-pound. The ensuing run-a-palooza was born from necessity. Jackson’s inaccuracy coupled with a relatively bare-bones receiving corps featuring the likes of one-trick pony John Brown and drop-prone veteran Michael Crabtree made running the lesser of two evils. It certainly worked out for Baltimore in the win column. Embracing their archaic, death-by-a-thousand-cuts edict, the Ravens captured wins over the Browns, Chargers and Falcons down the stretch while taking the Chiefs to overtime at Arrowhead. Unfortunately, that stretch did little to enlighten us on Jackson’s passing capabilities as the former Heisman winner spent the bulk of Baltimore’s late-season heater either putting the ball in Gus Edwards’ belly or dialing up another one of his patented escapes.   

Jackson stayed in the black for fantasy purposes on the strength of his 695 rushing yards (most of that accomplished after his ascension to starting status), tops in the league among quarterbacks. But his complete and utter lack of passing success raises questions about his staying power both in the real-life and fantasy spectrums. In the buildup to last year’s draft, ESPN talking head Bill Polian was widely chastised for implying L-Jax would never cut it as an NFL quarterback (he recommended a position change, suggesting Jackson’s best bet was as a receiver). Clearly the Ravens, who invested a first-round pick on the former Louisville Cardinal, disagreed. 

Jackson’s concerning lack of accuracy (58.2 completion percentage in seven starts) may have been a product of a weak supporting cast—Crabtree led the NFL with 11 drops while Brown’s downfield prowess was essentially erased by Lamar’s aversion to throwing deep (he ranked 34th among quarterbacks in attempted pass distance). But even if that was the case, there’s still enough worry over Jackson’s mechanics (by his own admission, he was still uncorking wobblers at OTAs last month) to cast doubt on Marquise Brown’s year-one fantasy potential. 

Chosen as the first receiver in this year’s draft, “Hollywood” earned All-American honors at Oklahoma while garnering flattering comparisons to similarly height-challenged burners DeSean Jackson and T.Y. Hilton. A cousin of Canton-bound Raiders receiver Antonio Brown, the 22-year-old undoubtedly benefited from strong quarterback play (Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray were his signal-callers) during his two-year run in Norman, though his enticing blend of top-end speed, superior separation skills and impeccable footwork should all translate at the next level. 

But the real question is, how will it translate with Jackson? John Brown, who offers a similar skill set to Hollywood’s, evaporated once Jackson took over for Flacco, nabbing just eight-of-30 targets (26.7 percent) for 114 yards and a single touchdown in seven starts together. The Ravens wouldn’t have drafted Brown if they didn’t think they could find ways to get him the football. It just might not be as a traditional “run-and-go-get-it” deep threat in the mold of D-Jax or Mike Wallace

Moving Hollywood around the formation is probably the best way to incorporate his talents in Greg Roman’s scheme and perhaps (as he did on occasion at Oklahoma) we’ll even see the rookie soak up some slot targets. Willie Snead worked as the Ravens’ primary slot receiver in 2018 and figures to occupy a similar role this season. Within the Ravens’ stable of pass-catchers last year, Snead showed arguably the most chemistry with L-Jax, recording 50 or more yards in five of seven games together including the postseason. That’s no coincidence. Snead, who lined up in the slot on 72.7 percent of his snaps in 2018, averaged just 4.0 air-yards per target last season while functioning as a trusted, short-yardage safety valve for Jackson in the middle of the field. With nearly 300 targets up for grabs following the offseason departures of Crabtree (released) and Smoky Brown (left in free agency), Snead might be getting overlooked in fantasy circles. I wouldn’t pound the table for him, but as a volume-based late-round flyer, Snead has to at least be in that conversation.

Aside from Brown (who carries mild injury risk coming off Lisfranc surgery) and the aforementioned Snead, Baltimore’s receiving pool isn’t exactly brimming with fantasy upside. Coaches have spent the offseason talking up contract-year receiver Chris Moore, but that kind of puff-piece fodder is par for the course this time of year. Personally, I wouldn’t read much into it—Moore has just four career touchdowns to his name and has never drawn more than 38 targets in a season. He could be a name to file away for DFS use, but even that’s probably pushing it. Third-round rookie Miles Boykin is a physical specimen at 6’4”/220 with 4.42 wheels, but given the offense’s ground leanings, the Notre Dame standout’s fantasy significance will probably be limited to the dynasty domain.

I’d be remiss not to mention the Ravens’ dueling tight ends. First-rounder Hayden Hurst was drafted to be the Ravens’ tent pole at that position but a stress fracture slowed his progress as a rookie. With Hurst hobbled, Mark Andrews (a teammate of Hollywood Brown’s at Oklahoma) impressed with a strong debut season, leading all rookie tight ends in both receiving yards (552) and yards per reception (16.2). Nick Boyle saw the most playing time among Ravens tight ends last season (650 offensive snaps) but was mostly employed as a run-blocker, which has been his bread and butter since entering the league as a fifth-round pick in 2015. Flacco was known for being a tight-end enthusiast throughout his Baltimore tenure and going off last year’s performance, Jackson seems to be similarly smitten with his tight ends. In fact, his completion percentage throwing to tight ends (70.8) was far superior to his success rate targeting other positions (53.3 percent).  

Running Game

RB: Mark Ingram, Justice Hill, Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon

OL (L-R): Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, Orlando Brown

For Baltimore’s running game, last year was about quantity over quality. The Ravens ranked second in the league in rushing yards (2,441) and third in rushing touchdowns (19) but only 15th in yards per carry (4.46). Alex Collins crashed and burned in the follow-up to his breakout 2017 (gun and drug charges prompted his release this offseason), allowing undrafted Rutgers alum Gus “The Bus” Edwards to establish himself as Baltimore’s chief ball-carrier. The 6’1”/238-pound pile-driver was a zero in the passing game (he managed just two catches all season) but otherwise thrived, finishing among the league leaders in yards per carry (5.2) while distancing himself from backfield-mates Kenneth Dixon, Ty Montgomery, Javorius Allen and Collins.

Edwards’ reign atop Baltimore’s backfield heap would prove to be short and sweet. Before he even had a chance to move in his belongings, the Ravens gave his corner office to free-agent signing Mark Ingram, who amassed a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons during his eight-year stint in New Orleans. Ingram’s good cop/bad cop routine with Alvin Kamara worked like gangbusters in the Big Easy and now he enters a similar union with fourth-round rookie Justice Hill in Baltimore. A three-year starter at Oklahoma State, Hill annihilated the Combine by achieving 95th-percentile SPARQ status and offers the burst (4.40 forty) and elusiveness needed to complement Ingram’s smash-mouth sensibilities. He may have to earn his stripes as a blocker first, which could be a big ask at his comparatively slight measurables (5’10”/200), but Hill certainly has the juice to warrant handcuff appeal in fantasy leagues. His presence along with Ingram’s arrival puts a damper on Edwards’ outlook. He’s a late-round shot in the dark while injury-prone underachiever Kenneth Dixon finds himself miles off the re-draft radar. 

Baltimore’s eye-popping rushing output last year wouldn’t have been possible without strong play in the trenches. The Ravens’ O line certainly held up its end of the bargain with starters Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda each receiving positive marks from ProFootballFocus. Yanda in particular was a standout, grading out as PFF’s No. 2 run-blocker among guards while making his sixth appearance on the All-Pro team. Alex Lewis was the broken wheel on Baltimore’s shopping cart last season, letting up a team-high three sacks from the left guard position while also yielding 16 quarterback hurries.

Win Total

The Ravens are currently going off at 8.5 wins, putting them on equal footing with the Falcons, Texans and Seahawks. Notably, Baltimore carries a lower team total than division rivals Pittsburgh (9) and Cleveland (the AFC North favorite at 9.5). I’m not much of a betting man, but if I were, I’d put money on the over. The Ravens won 10 games a year ago and made marked improvements by adding Ingram and All-Pro safety Earl Thomas in free agency, though they also failed to retain ace linebacker C.J. Mosley and aging pass-rusher Terrell Suggs. The Browns are on the rise but the Steelers could be headed for a fall as they try to regroup following last year’s morale-torpedoing Antonio Brown saga. I could easily see the Ravens coming away with nine or 10 wins even with challenging dates on the schedule against Kansas City (Week 3), New England (Week 9) and the Rams (Week 12).

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