Fantasy Football Team Preview: Baltimore Ravens (Ray Rice Update)

Training Camp Update (8/8)

Gary Kubiak’s West Coast offense looked sharp in its first real "test" against the 49ers in the Ravens first preseason game.  Unlike last year, the running game worked (237 rush yards) with Bernard Pierce scoring from inside the five.  Pierce is expected to start while Ray Rice sits out the first two games of the season.

Reports suggest tight end Owen Daniels’ fantasy impact within the Ravens’ offense may be less than anticipated.  This would clear the way for Dennis Pitta to step back into fantasy studhood.

Team Outlook

Ray Lewis retires, Anquan Boldin relocates to San Francisco, Ray Rice was AWOL on Sundays, and it’s as if the 2012 Super Bowl-champion Ravens completely lost their identity in 2013.

From a fantasy football perspective, two offseason acquisitions could generate more value for the Ravens’ offense.  First, the departure of offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell – a savior during the run towards a Super Bowl title turned fantasy goat in 2013 – opened the door for former Texans’ head coach Gary Kubiak to slide into the role.  Under Kubiak, Arian Foster and company thrived as the Texans’ rushing offense boasted the franchise’s top three campaigns.  This is great news for Ray Rice (assuming no suspension) and Bernard Pierce after the Ravens’ rushing offense ranked 30th in 2013 (83.0 YPG) – their worst output since an NFL franchise returned to Baltimore.

Second, the signing of 35-year-old Steve Smith creates a short-term fix and fills the possession receiver hole left by Anquan Boldin.

BYE Week: 11

AFC North Previews: Steelers | Ravens | Bengals | Browns | League

Quarterback: Joe Flacco

Two seasons ago, I bet a co-worker that Andrew Luck would finish with more fantasy points in his rookie season than Flacco.  I won.  At the start of the 2013 season, I asked my co-worker if he was interested in running that bet back – he declined.  Wise move.  Flacco actually threw more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (19) last season with career-lows in QB rating (73.1) and yards per attempt (6.37).  Two reasons for the regression were the absence of Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta who missed all but four games receiving from a hip injury.  Pitta and Boldin were targeted over 200 times in 2012.  So, remove them from the offense and inject a sub-par Ray Rice and WALLAH, the 19th-ranked fantasy quarterback (points scored) in 2013.

Despite the addition of Kubiak as offensive coordinator and Super Bowl titles on his resume, when it comes to fantasy football, Flacco’s no more than a mid-to-low end QB2.

Running Back: Ray Rice

If you haven’t caught Rice’s recent press conference “apologizing” for the elevator incident that resulted in his now-wife being knocked out (right), you can watch it on the Ravens’ website.  The press conference is important because even though Rice attempted to get out in front of a possible suspension, the {weakly} assumed responsibility by Rice and time between the incident and the presser may still warrant a few games punishment in 2014.

Rice’s on-the-field fantasy production a season ago left little to be desired on many levels.  His eight fantasy points per game ranked 27th in the league (standard).  Rice’s 214 carries, 660 rushing yards, 3.1 yards per carry, four touchdowns, 58 receptions, and 321 receiving yards were the lowest of his career since his rookie season (2008).  However, as mentioned in the team outlook, if Rice avoids suspension, the additions of Kubiak and Smith and return of Pitta for an entire season should only produce positive results for Rice’s fantasy stock.

Running Back: Bernard Pierce

The 24-year-old heir apparent to Rice and/or RBBC member underwent rotator cuff surgery in January.  So, he’s out until training camp.  Despite Rice’s struggles in 2013, Pierce only managed 436 yards on 152 carries (2.9 YPC) last year.  He didn’t quite break out like several fantasy pundits had predicted.  However, the Kubiak variable weighs heavily on Pierce’s 2014 fantasy porjections – not to mention his rehab from shoulder surgery.  He’ll most-likely rank within the top 48 running backs this summer, but unless Rice is suspended for a good chunk of time, I don’t see him impacting fantasy results this season.

Wide Receiver: Steve Smith

Marlon Brown finished second in targets within the Ravens’ offense last season.  With Steve Smith and Pitta in the 2014 mix, Brown will fade to the background.  During his three seasons with the Ravens, Boldin averaged over 100 targets, 62 receptions, 882 receiving yards and four-to-five touchdowns per click.  While the 5-foot-9 Smith was asked to be the main target within the Panthers’ offense, the WR2/3 role in the Ravens’ scheme will make it easier to embrace Smith as a WR2/3 in points-per-reception fantasy leagues this season.  In standard leagues, if Smith is on the board in the 12th or 13th rounds, I may take a flier, but no earlier.

Wide Receiver: Torrey Smith

Torrey Smith averaged 17.4 yards per reception last season (fifth in NFL) without a definitive WR2 to keep secondaries honest.  Despite posting a career-high 1,128 yards, his 138.8 fantasy points ranked 20th among fellow fantasy receivers mainly because Smith only found the end zone four times all season.  With Kubiak running the offense, expect T. Smith to rank as a high-end WR2 in 2014.

Tight End by Committee: Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels

Remember the time you drafted Owen Daniels and believed THIS was the year he was going to break out and joined the elite class of fantasy tight ends only to have Joel Dreessen, James Casey or Garrett Graham vulture score after score?  This could happen to Pitta in 2014.

2015 Fantasy Football Team Previews

The 2012 season was Daniels’ best with 62 receptions (103 targets) for 716 yards with six touchdowns.  That same season, Graham and Casey combined for 593 yards with six touchdowns.

Oh, it’s worth mentioning, the Ravens drafted Crockett Gillmore late.  Kubiak did start to work Texans’ rookie tight end Ryan Griffin into the mix towards the end of the 2013 season with positive results.  So, don’t be shocked to see all three play a role in the offensive coordinators tight end by committee this season.

Kicker: Justin Tucker

Tucker averaged nine-and-a-half points per game last season – sixth-most among fellow fantasy kickers.  He connected on 10-11 field goals between 40-49 yards and six of seven from 50 and beyond.  Tucker’s 92.7 field goal accuracy rate (38-41) was sixth-best in the NFL last season.  He’ll remain a top 12 fantasy kicker in 2014.

Team Defense (DST)

The Ravens’ fantasy defense / special teams averaged less than seven points per game last season and ranked 19th among other fantasy DST.  They picked off 16 passes and sacked the quarterback 40 times.  After allowing 16.6 points per game in 2011, the Ravens’ defense has allowed more than 21 points per game in 2012 and 2013.

The good news is the franchise addressed an urgent need to get young on defense during the 2014 NFL Draft as they selected linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and safety Terrence Brooks with their first three picks.  Oh, and they still have speedster Jacoby Jones returning kicks and punts.

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