QB Joe Flacco
After a career year in 2010 with 3,622 passing yards and 25 touchdowns, Flacco was considered a solid candidate to have a breakout fantasy season in 2011. However, with Anquan Boldin in decline and Ray Rice having a career-year running the ball, Flacco never emerged as a consistent fantasy option as he failed to build on his solid 2010 campaign. Despite increasing his passing attempts by 53, his yardage total dropped to 3,610, his number of touchdown passes declined to 20 and he threw two more interceptions (12 in total). Let’s just say that Flacco’s offseason assertion that he is the best quarterback in the league may be off a tad (as in not even in the top 10). After another season of mostly dink and dunk passes (23rd in the league in yards per attempt) despite having dynamic rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith in the lineup, there is little reason to suggest that Flacco’s breakout season will arrive a year late. Consider Flacco a mid-tier backup.
RB Ray Rice
Finally freed from the shackles of sharing red zone touches with a productive veteran (first Willis McGahee and then Ricky Williams), Rice put together his finest fantasy season with 2,068 all purpose yards and 15 touchdowns, good enough to finish as the top ranked fantasy running back. With Williams relegated to essentially a pure backup role, Rice eclipsed 2,000 yards for the second time in three seasons, reaching career highs in rushing yards (1,364), rushing touchdowns (12), receiving yards (704) and receiving touchdowns (three). At 25 years of age, Rice has plenty of solid years ahead of him and figures to approach the 367 touches he had last season given the lack of a proven backup. The only negatives with Rice are his contract situation (he has refused to sign his franchise tender) and his huge workload over the past three seasons where he has averaged 357 touches per year and has played in two playoff games each season. Given the lack of explosiveness in the Ravens offense, Rice lacks the upside of Arian Foster or LeSean McCoy but is the least risky of the three given the huge amount of yardage he has accumulated over the last three years (5,891 total yards).
RB Bernard Pierce
With Ricky Williams riding off into the sunset, the Ravens used a 3rd round pick to acquire Pierce. Despite having good size at 6’0” and 218 pounds, he too often avoids contact and he can’t stay healthy. So, will practicing against Ray Lewis and the boys on the Ravens D make Pierce want to avoid contact more or less? Interesting question. Pierce will battle Anthony Allen for the opportunity to back up Ray Rice and Pierce figures to win that battle given his superior upside. However, there’s no chance of either player approaching the amount of touches (121) that Williams had last year.
RB Anthony Allen
The Ravens like Allen, a 2011 7th round pick, but apparently they didn’t like him enough to forego drafting a running back in this year’s draft, hence the selection of Bernard Pierce in the 3rd round. Allen has enough bulk at 230 pounds to move the pile but earned just three carries as a rookie. Monitor the Ravens backup running back situation in the preseason so you can grab the right handcuff if Ray Rice ends up on your fantasy squad.
WR Torrey Smith
Considered a raw prospect who possessed outstanding speed coming out of Maryland, the Ravens 2011 2nd round pick burst onto the scene with a monstrous Week 3 performance against the Rams, catching five passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns and having another scored called back because of a penalty. Let’s just say that Lee Evans’ early season injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While Smith proved to be inconsistent, he still managed to finish the season with 50 receptions for 841 yards and seven touchdowns, despite being targeted just once in the team’s first two games. He takes over as the team’s top threat at wide receiver in 2012 and figures to approach 1,000 yards and be around the seven-touchdown mark once again. Consider Smith a mid-tier WR3 with a big upside for the upcoming season.
WR Anquan Boldin
While the fantasy world seems to have given up on Boldin, a closer look reveals that there wasn’t much, if any, drop off in his production between 2010 and 2011. In fact, you could argue he had a better season in 2011 with more yards (40) in two fewer games and just seven fewer receptions. His fantasy production suffered due to a drop in touchdowns from seven to three but that total should increase in 2012. Boldin will benefit from playing alongside a pair of speedsters in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, which should open up the intermediate routes that are his specialty and allow him to line up more in the slot. At 32 years of age, Boldin’s days as a WR1 are clearly behind him but a bounce back season could be in the cards. Draft Boldin as a low-end WR3 or high-end WR4 and consider him a better option in PPR leagues.
WR Jacoby Jones
There aren’t many wide receivers out there who are as talented as Jones but have produced as little as he has. Despite possessing better than average size (6’2”, 210 pounds) and having outstanding speed, the light has never clicked on. The Texans dumped him after having signed him to a long-term contract prior to the 2011 season and it’s time for the fantasy world to give up on the hope that he will have a breakout season. He lands in Baltimore for two reasons: to return punts and because none of the players behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith have ever caught pass in the NFL. Even if Boldin or Smith were to get injured, Jones still isn’t worthy of your trust.
TE Ed Dickson
With the surprise release of Todd Heap last season, Dickson was thrust into a starting role and played reasonably well in his first year in that role, catching 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns. Entering his third year in the league, Dickson is a talented tight end that needs to play more consistently and display better hands. Even if Dickson improves in those areas, he is unlikely to break out given the presence of fellow third year player Dennis Pitta. Pitta basically shared the pass catching role with Dickson last season, eating up 56 targets and his presence relegates Dickson to low-end TE2 status in 2012.
TE Dennis Pitta
Although listed as a backup, Pitta essentially split the tight end role with Ed Dickson in 2011. In his first extensive playing time, Pitta hauled in 40 passes for 405 yards and a score and came on strong in a three game run that began in Week 17 and included two playoff games, catching 13 of 19 targets for 132 yards and two touchdowns. By season’s end, Pitta was the more reliable of the team’s two tight ends, as evidenced by his 71.4% completion percentage for the season compared to 60.7% for Dickson. Since the Ravens appear to prefer Dickson in the starting lineup and the role will likely remain a timeshare, Pitta isn’t worth owning in 2012.