Coming off a Super Bowl win in 2012, the Ravens took a big step backwards in 2013. With the loss of so many playmakers on offense and defense, they finished 8-8. That was the first time they finished .500 or worse since 2007. With a few new additions on offense, the Ravens will look to get back to their winning ways in 2014.
2014 Ravens Schedule
|6||@||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|12||@||New Orleans Saints|
|13||San Diego Chargers|
As usual, these are your token words of caution when looking towards the schedule in advance. Baltimore has a very gloomy outlook as an offense for the first month but does appear to have back-to-back solid opportunities in the fantasy postseason. If this offense looks anywhere close to as bad as it was in 2013, even the best matchups on paper will make it hard for you to invest into it when the most is at stake.
With the departure of Anquan Boldin and the loss of Dennis Pitta for nearly the entire the season, coupled with disastrous offensive line play and an anemic running game, this offense declined severely in several key efficiency areas from the 2012 season.
|Avg. Scoring Margin||4.5||9||-2.0||20|
|Yards Per Point||13.9||8||15.4||18|
|Points Per Play||0.398||10||0.294||28|
|Points Per Drive||1.98||10||1.44||26|
|Red Zone TD Rate||60.3%||6||46.2%||31|
For 2014, they will be moving onto their third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, bringing in Gary Kubiak to call plays. JJ Zachariason has some glowing words on what his hire not only means for the running game, but also for the passing attack. Before jumping into the individual components of this offense and their fantasy relevancy, take a look at the long line of offenses and their splits under Kubiak.
[table id=154 /]
Outside of the hot pile of garbage that was torched in the Texas sun last season, Kubiak’s resume lives up to its reputation as a run first offense behind the zone blocking scheme. Getting that rushing game on track will be critical if this offense is going to bounce back this season as Baltimore ranked dead last in yards per carry in 2013 at 3.1 yards per attempt. That was over a full yard off of their 2012 pace and the lowest team total for a season since the 2007 Chicago Bears.
Quote the Running Game, Nevermore
Ravens running backs combined for six touchdowns in 2013, three of which immediately followed a pass interference in the end zone and another off of a muffed punt downed at the one-yard line. Their other two ground scores came from five yards out. Both Pierce and Rice ranked in the bottom of non-touchdown points per touch and percentage of touches for scores a season ago. This offensive line was a wreck and it doesn’t look much better in print this season no matter if the scheme is favorable or not.
The big news we all were waiting for in regards to the group of runners this year is just how long the suspension of Ray Rice would be. With him only receiving a two-game suspension, that is likely the worst case scenario for all parties involved as it pertains to fantasy football.
With a lengthy suspension, that would’ve opened the door Bernard Pierce to at least become a mid-round RB2 target if not for anything besides expected volume. Pierce dealt with an injured shoulder all season a year ago that played a part in him posting the second worst score in fantasy rushing points per rushing attempt. Now with Rice only missing two games, Pierce has his immediate value sapped because he’s now he’s pretty much relegated to becoming the Raven’s version of Chris Ivory at best. I wouldn’t even touch him for the opening two weeks versus Cincinnati and Pittsburgh since the AFC North interdivision games are a cesspool for ground performances. Since he’s not a three-down back, I would anticipate Justin Forsett to play passing downs to open the campaign until Rice returns in week three. At this point, he’s a guy whose role likely won’t be altered heavily, but also in one that won’t generate much fantasy equity.
This also all but dashes any dreams of hitting on a potential Zero RB sleeper, Lorenzo Taliaferro. Taliaferro was an arbitrage play on Andre Williams coming out of the draft with the added bonus of being a superb pass protector and pass catcher. He’s been a favorite of Chad Scott’s during the draft process and was the back that fit the Kubiak, Shanahan rushing scheme the best out of this group. If Rice were suspended for a considerable length, Taliaferro could’ve eventually carved out a role if Pierce carried over his 2013 production into the new season. If Pierce was to go down in season, keep his name on speed dial as a deep bench add, but 2014 doesn’t appear clear for him to make a significant fantasy impact at draft time.
Lastly, the suspension length also hurts Rice himself. At least from a fantasy sense that is. With a six to eight game ban, Rice would’ve been an easy target late in drafts, especially in PPR leagues as his ADP would’ve plummeted and he would’ve jumped into the season with fresh legs. As it stands, his ADP will actually very likely creep up a touch.
He did deal with a nagging hip injury that lasted the entire season, but Rice was dead last in rushing points per rushing attempt out of any back with 200 or more carries in 2013. Once a fantasy points per route run (FPPRR) legend, even his pass catching acumen for fantasy football stemmed from volume instead of effectiveness. Pulling up his Career Graph available from RotoViz, you can see why we’ve likely already seen the apex of Rice’s career as a running back.
All of his peripheral statistics were already declining before his heinous 2013, so there’s reason to believe that his future of fantasy relevance will come from his ability to receive the football. I personally don’t view Rice as more than an RB3 because of the offensive situation he’s in and related to his cost and where it will likely stabilize at, I just can’t endorse selecting him over several other players in that area of the draft.
More Ripple Effect
There’s also a slight current that his shortened absence that carries over into the passing game as newly acquired intermediate targets in Steve Smith and Owen Daniels stemmed to gain the biggest uptick in that area if Rice were to be out long. Daniels is a classic coach signing that makes the translation of Kubiak’s offense run smoothly. At age 32, his yards per reception have declined three consecutive seasons and he is clearly behind Pitta as the lead target at tight end. Even with more sets involving multiple tight ends, he won’t make much of a dent into your fantasy plans except for when he vultures a red zone score from one of the few pieces of this offense we’ll actually be playing.
At age 35, Steve Smith was brought in as a complimentary player in this offense. Smith didn’t top 70 yards receiving in any of his 15 games a season ago and has eclipsed that mark in just 14 of his past 42 games played. Never an elite touchdown producer in the red zone, he’s reached pay dirt only eight total times in the past two seasons as his career is reaching a transitive stage. The last WR2 to garner triple digit targets in a Kubiak system was Kevin Walter in 2007 (106 targets) and even then, Andre Johnson missed seven games. Without the prerequisite volume necessary to carry him at this point in his career, I don’t even view Smith as rosterable entering the 2014 season and would rather use that late round selection on a potential week tilter. If you’re looking for a glimmer of sunshine, Smith does have a track record of popping up every third year throughout his career.
Smith’s signing also pretty much closes the door on Marlon Brown being a major player in his second season. That’s unfortunate; because Brown was underused as a rookie and delivered on the opportunities he was given. Brown was a mammoth in the red zone as a rookie, converting seven of his 14 targets for scores and five of ten inside of the 10-yard line. His stock will never be lower, but the WR3 in this system averages only eight percent of the team’s targets per season. Outside of the red zone, Brown will need an injury to either Smith to give him weekly consideration. Even in 2013, Brown had little involvement before the Ravens reached the red zone.
|Marlon Brown||TGT||Team TGT%||TD|
I really like Michael Campanaro and Josh Colacchi profiles his strengths in this rookie profile. Davis Mattek also outlines why he’s a much better receiver than advertised. If Steve Smith was to officially hit the wall or get injured, I believe Campanaro would be the player who would make the biggest impact outside of the red zone and be a strong PPR add mid-season.
Dennis Pitta stands to finally deliver on what we were hoping to get from him before he was forced to have hip surgery last August. He returned for the final four weeks in 2013, but clearly wasn’t the same player as he was in 2012, but still managed to grab five receptions per game over the final month. Tight ends have been the second favorite target in this offense and Pitta has more versatility than many of the ones that have been part of Kubiak’s Houston teams. Tight ends in this system have also been nearly as good of touchdown producers as the receivers. Here’s the red zone distribution to each position in the passing game in the 15 seasons of Kubiak offenses.
He will be entering 2014 at age 29 and still needs to deliver more than just promise to us, however. As much as I like Pitta and what I project him to do this season, I just can’t see him (and the group of tight ends tiered around him in ADP) running away a great deal from the bottom third of the position in regards to its top 12 options. I won’t fight you hard if you like him where he’s at, but I’m more inclined to wait longer than his current ADP if I’m still in need of a tight end.
The earliest Raven being selected this summer is Torrey Smith. I’ve already nearly approached my allotted word count dedicated to Smith this summer, but if you really want my in depth breakdown of why I believe this is the perfect storm for his career, system, and fantasy football cost, then this is my definitive stance.
Saving the trouble here of duplicating myself too much, I will say that the main reason I will be targeting Smith so heavily in the mid rounds is that his cost is completely neutral for what he’s done so far through three seasons. I target players that don’t have their ceiling priced in, and Smith is still that based on the recency bias from owners anticipating his breakout after the departure of Boldin. At worst case scenario, you’ll be paying market value if he never makes the jump, which is similar weekly production to that of Vincent Jackson 30 picks after he’s already off the board.
Joe Flacco is coming off of his worst season as a pro immediately after being paid the highest salary at his position at the time when he inked his extension last offseason. Not entirely to blame as we’ve already covered the ineptitude of this offense a year ago, and we mentioned the offensive line issues as he was sacked a career high 48 times. But Flacco was dead last in adjusted yards per aimed attempt (AY/AA) and fourth worst in fantasy points per aimed throw (FPAT) in 2013. 60 percent of starts resulting in fantasy failure as he threw a career high 22 interceptions last season.
[table id=155 /]
Even with enormous volume (he was sixth in the league in attempts in 2013), he has failed to throw for 4,000 yards yet in his career and has reached 25 touchdowns only once. For fantasy football, he is monotonously mediocre and priced accordingly. Quarterbacks in this system average 553 pass attempts per season and only once in 15 seasons has the group of quarterbacks reached 575 attempts. Flacco is a streamer and matchup play at best, but one that comes with only a modest ceiling even when his team is in favorable spots.
2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections
Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Rice – still has elite pedigree in the passing game. If he can regain the rushing form he had before the hip injury and this offensive line greatly improves, could deliver value in the end for those who gamble.
Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Pierce – tough to say where he’ll land in drafts now that Rice’s suspension is shorter than anticipated. Not an every down back and better suited as the second guy who cleans up, could see fewer snaps than expected if this offense doesn’t bounce back.
Best Waiver Wire Option: Campanaro – if Smith goes goes down, he suits the role outside of the red zone better than Brown does.
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