2018 Team Preview: Baltimore Ravens
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire
The Baltimore Ravens look poised to offer some solid fantasy value coming into this season, thanks to a number of free agent signings and the rise of a new starting running back last season. Let’s take a look at what they can offer.
Joe Flacco (QB3)
The Joe Flacco era in Baltimore is coming to a rapid close, and last year was pretty much all you need to look at to understand that. Flacco has typically been seen in his career as a big arm, deep ball thrower (and he has been), but last year that wasn’t the case. Flacco opted for safe throws a lot more, and when he did throw deep, he didn’t do well, posting a 49.7 QB rating on go routes and a 37% adjusted completion percentage on deep balls, good for 26th out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks. And on top of all that, he posted a miserable -19.3% DVOA, good for sixth-worst in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 200 passes. If there’s any good news for the fantasy prospect of Flacco, it’s that his wide receiver corps has gotten much better, and his offensive line (while still not great) is healthy—though that could easily change considering Marshal Yanda‘s age and injury history. Flacco just doesn’t really have the skills he used to have anymore, so there’s not really any fantasy value here.
Lamar Jackson (QB3/4)
Jackson is a really exciting player, and we’ve seen that in the preseason so far, as best exemplified by this great touchdown run:
The first-round draft pick is more than likely the future of the Ravens and looks like he could be a dynamic NFL quarterback, but it’s not a guarantee he’ll see much playing time this year unless Flacco really takes a dump on this offense (and that’s definitely possible). The Ravens really like Jackson, and they have the staff to build an offense around him, with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who coached Michael Vick, and assistant coach Greg Roman, who coached Colin Kaepernick. Jackson will likely get worked into plays here and there throughout the season, but honestly, if the Ravens feel that Flacco is the main thing holding them back from contending, I wouldn’t be overly shocked if Jackson starts to supplant Flacco a year early.
Alex Collins (RB2)
I like Alex Collins a lot. I was a big fan of his when the Ravens called him up from the practice squad last season and I remain a big fan of his. He’s fast, he’s got great burst, and he’s not easy to bring down.
He established himself as the guy in the Ravens offense, and I don’t anticipate Kenneth Dixon to supplant him or really take any meaningful amount of carries away from him, given Dixon’s injury history and the fact that he seems to have fallen out of favor with the organization. From Week 8 onward last year, Collins had six top-15 finishes with three of those being top-10 finishes and finished the year with an excellent 15.1% DVOA, good for third-best in the league, behind an injured Ravens offensive line. Collins has all the tools to be a really successful running back and I think a full season of him this year is going to be exciting to watch.
Michael Crabtree (WR3)
Michael Crabtree had a fairly mediocre year from a yardage standpoint last season, with just 58 catches for 618 yards, but he derived a lot of value from his touchdowns, with eight touchdowns last season. Moving to Baltimore should be good for Crabtree, as he’ll be the primary receiver in what should be an improved passing offense this year. Joe Flacco isn’t as good of a quarterback as Derek Carr, but if we’re being honest, it’s not insanely worse. While Crabtree did finish last year with a -6.5% DVOA, he also had 757 effective yards compared to his 618 standard yards. I expect him to be solid, and he’ll likely get touchdowns given that he’ll be the best red zone threat the Ravens will have, but he’s not going to go nuts (at least, not while Joe Flacco is throwing the ball).
Hayden Hurst (TE2)
Hayden Hurst is an interesting guy to me. Drafted in the first round by the Ravens, he’s likely to be the team’s starting tight end, and he’ll be in an offense that has long been in love with throwing to the tight end. Both Dennis Pitta and Ben Watson have found noticeable success in Baltimore—Flacco loves to throw to his tight end. Rookie tight ends don’t really have a great fantasy record, but Hurst is a unique case—he’s already 25 thanks to a brief major league baseball career, and he’s an amazing athlete. If everything goes well with the Ravens’ offense, he could be a low-end TE1, but for now, I’d consider him an interesting TE2 with potential.
Offensive Honorable Mentions
I just wanted to quickly mention three players here that are worth paying attention to for fantasy purposes this year.
First is Javorius Allen (or Buck Allen as you may know him). Allen is likely to be the Ravens’ primary receiving running back, and if Flacco enjoys throwing to his tight end, he loves throwing to his running back. While Collins will get some receptions, Allen will likely get the majority of them, which gives him some value in PPR leagues
Also worth mentioning are the Ravens’ two other wide receivers: Willie Snead and John Brown. It’s easy to forget that just two years ago, Snead was a useful fantasy receiver, ending the 2016 season with 895 yards and four touchdowns with a 12.5% DVOA (good for top-20 in the league). Now, Joe Flacco is no Drew Brees, but Snead has talent and could be an interesting flex option depending on how the passing offense shapes up.
There’s also Brown, who is an extremely talented, yet frequently injured receiver. He’s crazy fast and will likely be used as a speed guy in a Ravens offense that has been known to enjoy throwing the ball deep (remember the Torrey Smith years?). If (and that’s a huge if) Brown stays healthy, he could be interesting.
The Ravens defense was excellent last season, finishing with a -13.9% DVOA (good for sixth-best in the league). Problem is, they were really inconsistent. This year, I expect the Ravens defense to be solid. They have an excellent secondary led by Jimmy Smith (who allowed just a 49.2 passer rating when targeted) and Eric Weddle along with Tony Jefferson and former first-round pick Marlon Humphrey. Also, Tavon Young will be back and healthy, making for a solid nickel cornerback. It also doesn’t hurt having Brandon Carr either. Suffice to say, this secondary is going to be formidable.
The run defense should be good too, with a formidable line of Brandon Williams, Terrell Suggs, and Michael Pierce. Unfortunately, I anticipate that front seven to have some struggles in the pass rush. While Suggs/Williams/Pierce are great, Matthew Judon and a mix of Za’Darius Smith and Tyus Bowser leave a bit to be desired (though I do like Willie Henry). Overall, I expect this Ravens defense to be every bit the force it was last season, and that should translate to a usable fantasy defense in just about every matchup.