Ravens Year in Review

2014 Pass Attempts Rank: 17th (554)
2014 Rush Attempts Rank: 11th (448)
2014 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 14th (1,021)
2014 Yards Per Play Rank: 9th (5.7)

 

Check out the team-by-team fantasy preview schedule.

 

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Joe Flacco
RB: Justin Forsett
WR: Steve Smith Sr.
WR: Breshad Perriman
TE: Maxx Williams
TE: Crockett Gillmore
LT: Eugene Monroe
LG: Kelechi Osemele
C: Jeremy Zuttah
RG: Marshal Yanda
RT: Rick Wagner

Passing Game Outlook

Joe Flacco has played seven seasons and just once finished as a fantasy QB1 — in 2010 when Flacco ranked tenth with a 25:10 TD-to-INT ratio. Working in Flacco’s favor is new OC Marc Trestman‘s pass-oriented background. In 13 years as a coordinator, head coach, or assistant head coach, Trestman’s offenses have never ranked in the bottom half of the league in pass attempts, and they’ve ranked top ten eight times. Working against Flacco is the Ravens’ stated intent to keep a balanced offense in place, and the fact that Flacco’s weapons consist of a 36-year-old No. 1 receiver, rookie No. 2, and rookie tight end. Flacco is a worthy QB2 target in best-ball leagues, but I’d balk at expecting him to suddenly change his stripes and become a big-time fantasy scorer. He’ll still be a viable streamer versus sub-par defenses.

Steve Smith Sr.‘s 2014 season is perceived as being stronger than it was. He accumulated 54 percent of his yards and 67 percent of his touchdowns in the first month and a half, before averaging 49.2 yards per game with just two TDs over the final ten weeks. Smith turned 36 in May. With all of that said, Smith offers a high year-long floor and is a candidate for 80-plus receptions considering his unproven target competition and Trestman’s pass-first ways. As is typically the case with “old,” not-sexy fantasy commodities, Smith is undervalued at his late-eighth-round ADP. Smith saw 134 targets last year and should have a 120-target floor in 2015.

Breshad Perriman was a polarizing figure in the draft community. He dropped eight passes at UCF last year, showed a tendency to run uncrisp routes, and is commonly typecast as a raw straight-line burner with bad hands. Perriman’s college film reveals a big, physical, at-times dominant prospect with explosive separation skills who dealt with abysmal quarterback play at Central Florida. His upside is immense, and he should have a safe immediate floor based on massive opportunity. The beneficiary of a stable quarterback situation both in the short and long term, Perriman will vie for Trestman’s play calls with a 36-year-old receiver whose production dropped off sharply after the early part of last season, and a second-round rookie tight end. Perriman could blow the roof off his eighth-round ADP. Predecessor Torrey Smith averaged 108.5 targets the past four years. Perriman is bigger, stronger, and faster.

Kamar Aiken received veteran-deference treatment from Ravens coaches at OTAs, running with the first-team offense ahead of Perriman. Although it’s unlikely to last, this is a situation worth monitoring. Aiken is a quality athlete in his own right, running 4.45 at 6-foot-1, 213 with an impressive 10-foot-8 broad jump coming out of college. Aiken just turned 26 years old and efficiently secured 24-of-32 targets last season for 267 yards and three touchdowns. Smith Sr., Perriman, and Aiken look to have firm holds on 53-man roster spots. Competing behind them are slot prospect Michael Campanaro, third-year possession receiver Marlon Brown, sixth-round H/W/S freak Darren Waller, and intriguing UDFA rookie DeAndre Carter. At 6-foot-6, 238, the Ravens have openly discussed giving Waller reps as a move tight end.

Maxx Williams will play flex tight end in Trestman’s offense, where Martellus Bennett set back-to-back career highs in catches and yards the past two seasons. The Ravens have bulked up in-line TE Crockett Gillmore from 260 to 275 pounds, suggesting Gillmore will be used like a sixth offensive lineman. Williams would seem to have a ton of year-one opportunity, but has already openly admitted mastering the Ravens’ playbook is a challenge, and tested out athletically in the Brent Celek range at the Combine. Perhaps most concerning is the negative history of rookie tight ends. Since Jeremy Shockey went 74-894-2 in 2002, only one NFL rookie tight end has topped 600 yards (John Carlson, 627). Probably the most reasonable expectation for Williams is a first year along the lines of Heath Miller (39-459-6) or Zach Ertz (36-469-4). And if Williams doesn’t master that playbook, he’ll wind up playing limited snaps.

Running Game Outlook

The Ravens became Justin Forsett‘s fifth NFL team when they signed him to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum two Aprils ago. Forsett capitalized on Ray Rice‘s suspension by outplaying Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro en route to an unlikely seventh-year breakout, ranking fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,266) and first in yards per carry (5.39) among players with at least 125 attempts. Forsett re-signed for three years and $9 million, and will benefit from the return of all five members of a premier Ravens offensive line; Football Outsiders ranked Baltimore’s front five as a top-three run-blocking group in 2014. What Forsett may lose in the rushing department from the departure of run-game guru Gary Kubiak he can compensate via the passing game under new OC Marc Trestman, who loves to feed targets to his tailbacks. Ravens beat writers have suggested Forsett’s catch total could “double” after last year’s 44. Notable catch totals of past Trestman backs: 102, 74 (Matt Forte); 91, 72 (Charlie Garner); 73 (Michael Pittman); 69 (Larry Centers); 87 (Derek Loville).

Forsett turns 30 in October and carries some “one-year wonder” risk as a back who never exceeded 619 rushing yards in a season before more than doubling his previous career high as a seventh-year pro. Enter fourth-round pick Buck Allen, a must-have handcuff for Forsett’s 2015 owners. Allen has some limitations — he “runs small” for his size (6’1/221) and doesn’t project as a consistent inside runner — but he showed excellent receiving ability at USC and can pass block. Allen also had a strong Combine, running 4.53 with a 10-foot-1 broad jump and 35 1/2-inch vertical, all impressive marks considering his size. Allen’s versatility makes him a nice fit with Trestman. In a good offense behind one of the league’s most butt-kicking lines, Allen could flirt with fantasy RB1 stats if something went wrong with Forsett.

The Ravens seem to have pigeonholed Lorenzo Taliaferro as a short-yardage thumper who may have been rendered expendable by the Allen pick. Taliaferro didn’t embarrass himself as a rookie — he solidly averaged 4.29 yards per carry and scored four TDs on 68 runs — but “Zo” also battled foot and ankle injuries and ball-security issues. My guess is Taliaferro’s spot is safe as Baltimore’s No. 3 back, but wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that UDFA Terrence Magee bumps him off the roster. Taliaferro is a north-south runner at 6-foot and 229 pounds. Both Taliaferro and Magee are names worth remembering in case injuries strike.

2015 Vegas Win Total

The Ravens’ Vegas projection is nine wins, which may seem conservative for a team that’s averaged 10.4 victories over the last half decade. Vegas’ win projections are inherently conservative, however, and nine wins is actually eighth highest in the league. I like the over on Baltimore this year. Getting CB Jimmy Smith back healthy is enormous for the secondary, and offensively the Ravens should be able to dominate games with their offensive line early while the passing game gradually progresses over the course of the season. While I wouldn’t characterize the Ravens’ schedule as an easy one, it does consist of 14 opponents with win projections under nine, including Cleveland (6.5) twice, Jacksonville (5.5), and Oakland (5.5).

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