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2014 Player Outlooks – Baltimore Ravens

By: — August 5, 2014 @ 11:23 pm

QB Joe Flacco
(2013 QB Rank—#18, 18.2 FPts/G)

The more Joe Flacco throws the ball, the less effective he becomes. In Flacco’s first three seasons in the NFL, he had less than 500 pass attempts and completed 62 percent of his throws. In the last three seasons, where Flacco has surpassed 500 pass attempts, his completion percentage has dipped to a very mediocre 58.7 percent. When your fantasy quarterback gets worse the more he throws, it’s time to consider other options. In 2013 Flacco was a middling QB2. Having to learn and adjust to a new offensive scheme that will favor the run, expect Flacco to again be a low-tier QB2 with little upside. With only a shadow of a running game, a powerless offensive line (48 sacks allowed) and Torrey Smith as the only major threat out wide, Flacco tried to carry the Ravens on his shoulders and failed. His 19-22 touchdown to interception ratio was the worst of his six-year career. During the offseason the Ravens committed resources to shoring up their putrid offense, trading for a new starting center and signing veterans Owen Daniels and Steve Smith. With the addition of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, expect Flacco to play a much more composed, conservative game, which might do wonders for his team’s offensive consistency, but ultimately won’t do much for your fantasy team.

Ray Rice

A forgettable 2013 plus a two-game suspension has Rice’s value at an all-time low.

RB Ray Rice
(2013 RB Rank—#30 8.1 FPts/G)

Is Ray Rice the latest example of just how quickly high-volume, aging running backs can take a rapid statistical decline or is he simply a veteran runner coming off a down season? Hampered by an early-season leg injury and increased bulk, Rice looked nothing like the dynamic dual threat runner from just two seasons ago. Once considered a RB1 lock, Rice dashed the hopes of his fantasy owners last season with a 3.1 yards-per-carry average and only four touchdowns. Any positive offseason news concerning his health and conditioning was erased when he was arrested and subsequently suspended for two games because of a domestic violence incident. Marred by an ugly arrest and coming off a car wreck of a season, it’s hard to be optimistic about Rice returning to fantasy dominance, but don’t totally write off Rice as a fantasy asset in 2014.

Because of workload, competition and the two-game suspension, the days of Rice going for 1,800 total yards and 10+ touchdowns are likely gone. But remember, the Ravens running game was an abomination last season, not just Rice, and new coordinator Gary Kubiak knows a little something about moving the ball on the ground. The NFL is about talent and Ravens brass clearly thinks Rice has enough of it left, as they had all the reason in the world to cut him these last several months. Look for a rebound, as Rice tries to rectify a ghastly season and bring some positive results to his name and to his franchise. Be aware of his value and risk. Draft Rice as a low-tier RB2 or upper-tier RB3.

RB Bernard Pierce
(2013 RB Rank—#52, 4.1 FPts/G)

After a dazzling rookie year in 2012 that saw him begin to siphon work away from Pro Bowl teammate Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce was dreadful in 2013. Leading the league in lowest yards-per-carry average (2.9 ypc, min. 150 carries), Pierce couldn’t take advantage of Rice’s struggles, and provided little to no value to fantasy owners who handcuffed him to Rice. Despite playing in all 16 games, Pierce was hobbled by weekly lower leg injuries, and to compound his foot and ankle woes, he underwent major shoulder surgery in the offseason. Maybe the Ravens offensive line and running scheme was really as dreadful as it seemed or perhaps Pierce is merely a one-dimensional runner with limited potential. Well, we’re about to find out. With his running back competition dwindling due to arrests and suspensions, Pierce will get an early opportunity to fill out a meaningful offensive role when he starts the first two games of the season in place of Rice. Locked into an early season starter’s workload will give fantasy owners the look they need to determine if retuning to the zone blocking scheme he ran so successfully at Temple can bring him back into fantasy prominence. Even if he can return to his 2012 form early on, his upside remains capped by the presence of Rice and his limited role in the passing game (only 19 receptions in his college career and 27 in two NFL seasons), making him a RB4 with questionable prospects.

WR Torrey Smith
(2013 WR Rank—#22, 8.6 FPts/G)

The lone bright spot on offense for the Ravens in 2013 was the continued growth and development of Torrey Smith. Posting career highs in targets, catches and yards, Smith demonstrated an improved polish to his game by expanding his route tree and ability to read defensive coverage. The fact that he was able to provide WR2 numbers on an offense that was as poor as the Ravens is impressive alone. He was able to maintain an elite 17.4 yards-per-catch average, despite the additional defensive attention. His ability to get open deep saved him from his mediocre touchdown total at four. Because he and Joe Flacco connect so well on the deep ball, Smith is always a good bet for a monster game or two through the year, but he lacks the refinement and physical tools that made Andre Johnson a stud in this version of the Gary Kubiak offense. Look for Smith’s development to continue as he learns from the team’s other veteran pass catchers. As his role adjusts in the new offense and he takes on more routes closer to the line of scrimmage, expect his catch total and touchdowns to rise slightly, but his yardage total to dip. His talent, offensive system and responsibilities mean Smith should be a good bet to continue to provide lower-tier WR2 or upper-tier WR3 value.

WR Steve Smith
(2013 WR Rank–#43, 6.6 FPts/G)

Quietly one of the best receivers of his generation, 35-year-old Steve Smith comes to Baltimore not with a chip on his shoulder, but the whole darn block! Whether you believe the Carolina Panthers cut Smith because they were tired of his attitude or his declining game, the Ravens get the brash, no-nonsense veteran receiver they lost when they traded away Anquan Boldin last season. Smith will surely bring an edge to the Ravens offense, but quite simply, he won’t bring much to your fantasy team. While both he and Boldin fight for the football with the same reckless abandon, Boldin relies on exceptional body control and his 6’1’’ frame to fight defenders for the ball, while Smith’s game has been predicated on quickness, which has been sapped by age as he’s two years older than Boldin. In receiver-starved Carolina last year, Smith failed to record a single game over 74 yards last season and has found the end zone more than four times only once in the last four seasons. Don’t expect a Boldin-like career resurgence from Smith, and don’t rely on Smith as anything more than a WR4/5 for your fantasy team.

TE Dennis Pitta
(2013 TE Rank—#53, 5.7 FPts/G)

On his way to joining the ranks of the league’s elite pass catching tight ends, finishing in the top 10 in targets and catches in 2012, Dennis Pitta suffered a severe hip injury last offseason. The injury and subsequent surgery cost him the first 13 weeks of the season, but as a testament to his talent and importance to the Ravens offense, he was targeted a team-high 11 times and scored a touchdown in his first game back. With health on his side, a fresh new contract and an offense that figures to feature him in multiple formations and routes, Pitta is primed to continue his breakout. His speed and size make him as much of a weapon down the seam as a touchdown threat in the red zone. Flanked by Torrey Smith and Steve Smith on the outside, Pitta should have the space to work and could potentially lead the team in targets. At the very least Pitta is positioned to set career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns, and could provide some monster value as a reliable low-end TE1 with top-five upside.

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