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2012 Team Report: Baltimore Ravens

Quarterbacks

Starter: Joe Flacco
Backup(s): Tyrod Taylor, Curtis Painter

Starting QB: While Joe Flacco may not be the best QB in the NFL (as he was pressed by the media into saying earlier this offseason), he has been a consistently above-average performer in each of the last three years. Flacco's passing yardage totals in the last three years have all been within 12 yards of one another (3,613; 3,622; 3,610) while his TDs have been pretty consistent as well (21, 25, 20). While he may not provide elite-level fantasy upside, he does give you average-at-worst fantasy downside. Flacco still has some maturing to do, and while his ability to win big games has been questioned, those questions don't matter for fantasy purposes. He's a high-quality back-up in a 12-team league. Another thing that Flacco brings to the table is durability. He has played all 16 games in each of the past four seasons, meaning Baltimore has never needed to rely on anyone in the following category.

Backup QB: Tyrod Taylor was in the system last season as a rookie and saw limited action in three games. Curtis Painter has a relationship with new quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell and has more in-game experience, but Taylor should hold him off to be the primary backup.

Running Backs

Starter: Ray Rice
Backup(s): Bernard Pierce [R], Anthony Allen, Damien Berry
Fullback(s): Vonta Leach

Starting RB: You wouldn't be crazy if you drafted Ray Rice with the 1st overall pick in any fantasy format this season. Coming off a third consecutive season of 250+ carries and 60+ receptions, Rice touches the ball much more than your average runner. His ability in open space and his offensive line allow him to make the most of those touches as well. Rice is arguably the most important-to-his-team offensive player in the entire NFL, and the Ravens lean on him every week as if they're trying to confirm that status. Opportunity + Talent = Fantasy Gold.

Backup RBs: Bernard Pierce is a rookie out of Temple, where he scored 27 touchdowns last year in his junior season. Despite grades that had him as low as a 5th-rounder, the Ravens decided to make the call to Pierce in Round 3 and will allow him to be the primary backup to Rice. Before mini-camps, many wondered if the team would look to add a veteran back, but Baltimore personnel people turned away any suggestions of that. This late in camp, it becomes less and less likely each day. A 7th-round pick in 2011, Anthony Allen will be the team's third back on the depth chart. He saw limited action last season, getting just four games and three carries. With Rice as the workhorse and the team being high on Pierce, Allen's role may not be expanded. Damien Barry was an undrafted free agent last season who was signed to a futures contract in January. If the aforementioned veteran back ends up being added after all, Berry could be a camp casualty.

Fullback: Vonta Leach is the best in the game when it comes to blocking fullbacks. Leach will get the occasional "thanks for being such a good blocker, here's a dump-down, 5th-option pass" touches, but he is far from a focal point. His presence is still something that Rice owners need to monitor, though. He's that impactful.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith
Backups: LaQuan Williams, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Tommy Streeter [R]

Starting WRs: Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith represent a great "yin and yang" relationship of starting wideouts. Boldin is experienced and closer to the end of the road than the beginning; Smith is entering his second year. Boldin is large in size, catches balls in bunches, and works the intermediate distances; Smith is long, possesses elite speed, and is a perimeter-of-the-field player. The selection of Smith in last year's draft came with a few heads being scratched, but some players fit better with certain teams than others. Say what you will about Flacco, but he possesses elite skill in getting the ball deep downfield. Smith possesses elite skill in getting past defenders deep, hence the match. Boldin's receptions numbers have decreased in each of the past four years, something that could well continue this season. He hasn't surpassed 900 yards in any season with Baltimore, and he only had three touchdowns last season. Flacco's numbers should remain pretty consistent, which means Smith's production should increase in his second year. A story came out in April that Smith had a sports hernia from Week 3 on last season, which could be yet another reason to expect a breakout campaign. Monitor Smith's conditioning, though, as he missed some time in camp and the team's first two preseason games with an ankle injury.

Backup WRs: Like Smith, LaQuan Williams played his college ball at Maryland. While Smith was injured, Williams replaced him with the first team during the team's second preseason game. He was Flacco's main target, hauling in two passes while being thrown to six times. He seems to be the leader in the clubhouse for the third receiver spot. Jacoby Jones joined the team in the offseason, coming from Houston. He's a tall receiver with great speed, but his hands could use some work. He'll see limited time on offense and may run a few reverses, but he's mainly a special teams asset. The Ravens drafted Tommy Streeter out of Miami FL with the 198th pick in this April's NFL Draft. At 6'5" and 219 lbs, Streeter is freakishly gifted. He ran an "unofficial" 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which became an official 4.40. Regardless of who is clicking buttons on the stopwatch, Streeter can fly. As mentioned in the paragraph above, Joe Flacco excels at pressing the ball downfield. Streeter may not catch more than 30 passes this season, but if he plays 10 snaps per game, the opposing safeties will likely be at least one step deeper 10 times each week for Flacco. The team isn't deep at this position, but with the three players already mentioned, Ray Rice out of the backfield, and two solid tight ends, they have plenty of options and don't have to play more than three receivers at a time to utilize those weapons. Tandon Doss was a rookie last season who wasn't physically ready due to a sports hernia injury during his senior year at Indiana in 2010. He's unlikely to see much action during the season.

Tight Ends

Starters: Ed Dickson
Backups: Dennis Pitta, Davon Drew, Lamont Bryant, Nick Provo

Calling one of these guys the "starter" over the other is misleading. They can both play at the same time, and their skill sets are different enough that each brings a variety of things to the table. Ed Dickson is the more athletic of the two, and his ability to stretch the seams really puts pressure on opposing safeties and linebackers. He became a very viable weapon as a "move" tight end for Baltimore last season, catching 54 balls for 528 yards and 5 touchdowns. With Boldin declining each year, Dickson's "piece of the pie" should continue to grow in 2012. Dennis Pitta is more adept at short-to-intermediate routes and probably has better hands than Dickson. He's a very nice safety blanket for Flacco, as compared to Dickson who catches most of his passes on plays where he is the first or second option. Pitta can expose slower linebackers who struggle to cover the flats. Both Dickson and Pitta can be expected to make a bit of a "leap" in their third years in the league. Unfortunately, both are good enough that they may zap the fantasy value of each other. Two tight ends are fantasy-starter-worthy in other offenses in the league, but Baltimore certainly doesn't throw the ball as often as New England and others.

Place Kicker

Justin Tucker : After a Pro Bowl season in 2010, kicker Billy Cundiff had a comparatively disappointing 2011. He hit only 75.7% (28 of 37) on field goals, although five of the misses came from 50+ yards. Many Ravens fans are still complaining about his miss late in the playoff loss to the Patriots. The competition added to the roster was undrafted free agent Justin Tucker from Texas, signed over a month after the draft. Justin Tucker out kicked Billy Cundiff in practices. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg commented regarding potentially going with a rookie, "He'll be in there this Friday night. He'll be right out there in front of everybody and kicking, and I don't have any apprehension. The best player plays. That's just the way it is. It's that way at kicker, it's that way at defensive line and at wide receiver. So, whoever is the best player, that's the guy who's going to play." The Ravens released Cundiff on August 26th, giving the job to Tucker. They ranked in the top ten in attempted kicker scoring in three of the last four years - including a high of fourth last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: David Reed, Jacoby Jones

Last season, wide receiver David Reed was third in the league in yards per kick return, but he lost three fumbles including a pair against Seattle that may have cost the Ravens the game. Into this murky situation the Ravens bring free agent wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Himself an above average returner, Jones was released from Houston in part because of his own high profile fumbles, including one in the playoff game in Baltimore. Jones may have to earn the kick return job over Reed the old fashioned way by outplaying him.

Punt Returners: Jacoby Jones, Lardarius Webb

Going into the offseason, the Ravens return game had a number of questions to be answered. Cornerback Lardarius Webb served well as a punt returner, but the team may be shying away from exposing its top cornerback to the extra injury risk in 2012. Newly signed Jacoby Jones may take the punt returner job to limit the injury risk to Webb.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Bobbie Williams, C Matt Birk, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Michael Oher
Key Backups: LG Kelechi Osemele [R], G/T Jah Reid, T Ramon Harewood, G Gino Gradkowski [R]

UPDATE: LT Bryant McKinnie was absent from the start of training camp, but has since reported and seems to be on track to keep his starting position. Free agent signing Bobbie Williams has been a positive addition to the squad and Rookie Kelechi Osemele has looked solid substituting for various players. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Right guard Marshal Yanda is a rugged All Pro who can get tough yards for Ray Rice. Many casual fans aren't aware of Yanda's dominance. He has been a force since taking over the starting role and is considered one of the best guards in football. Finding left tackle Bryant McKinnie on the waiver wire last year was a huge coup for Baltimore. McKinnie is a former Pro Bowl tackle that ate himself out of job in Minnesota. McKinnie was able to recapture his form at Baltimore and does an above average job protecting the blind side. He is a player to watch, however, as he could show up to camp out of shape. Left guard is an open competition between swing tackle Jah Reid and second-round pick Kelechi Osemele to replace the departed Ben Grubbs. Osemele should win this battle, but it is far from certain. Stay tuned in preseason to see how it all shakes out. Center Matt Birk is an extremely solid former Pro Bowl player, but he is on the cusp of retirement. Fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski (brother of Bruce) is his likely replacement when the time comes. Right tackle Michael Oher is actually overrated at this point due to the movie about his life and his general fame. Oher has very good athleticism but sometimes uses poor technique. Ramon Harewood is a talented but raw possible swing tackle behind McKinnie. The cohesion of this group is very good as the only open spot is the left guard position. Once that situation settles, the Ravens should again be among the league's better units.

Team Defense

The Ravens were a Top 5 Defense and Special Teams fantasy unit last year thanks to 48 sacks, 25 takeaways and 4 defensive touchdowns, not to mention the No.2 run defense and No.4 pass defense in the NFL. The Ravens are a perennial favorite in this category much in part to their relentless style of 3-4 defense that turns smothering pressure into turnovers. The loss of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is not one to sweep under the rug. He will be missed as an elite edge rusher and high motor defensive stopper, but the Ravens have good depth with Paul Kruger, rookie Courtney Upshaw and Sergio Kindle who can fill the void. Veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are the cornerstones of the defense and will give their all to lead this unit to another top-five finish.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT/DE Haloti Ngata, DT/NT Terrence Cody, DE Pernell McPhee DE/OLB Paul Kruger
Backups: DT Arthur Jones, DT Ryan McBean, DT/DE DeAngelo Tyson, NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu

Starting DL: Baltimore normally runs a hybrid scheme that shifts often between a 3-4 and 4-3 alignment. The Achilles injury suffered by Terrell Suggs has the potential to limit that flexibility a bit. Suggs claims that he will play at some point in 2012 but it is highly unlikely that he would be back on the field before at least November if at all. With or without Suggs, breaking down the Ravens positional alignments is going to be a little tedious. When the club is in a 3-4 we will likely see Terrence Cody at the NT position with Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee at the ends. When a 4-3 is called, Ngata and Cody will shift to tackle with Paul Kruger the favorite to fill Suggs' defensive end position. Rookie second round pick Courtney Upshaw and veteran Sergio Kindle are the top candidates to line up at the opposite end in the 4-3. The loss of Suggs is a big blow to the Ravens Super Bowl aspirations. Yet even without him, they have a collection of talented and versatile players to work with. The time has come for Kruger and Kindle to step up and prove that the club was right to have used second round picks on them in recent years.

Backup DL: With all the versatility among the DL and LB starters, it would take at least a couple of injuries for any of the so-called backups to get any significant playing time. Ryan McBean will start the season on the suspended list, so third year pro Arthur Jones will get the call to spell the interior starters in 4-3 situations. Ma'ake Kemoeatu will be second on the depth chart at nose tackle in the 3-4. However it is more realistic to Ngata shifting to nose tackle to spell Terrence Cody if the big man needs a rest. Rookie seventh-round selection DeAngelo Tyson is unlikely to have a significant role, but may work his way onto the field for a handful of snaps per game. He fits the Ravens mold of a versatile player who can line up at different spots and is capable of working at either tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4. The Suggs injury has already forced Baltimore to dip into the depth chart a bit, but with the ability of so many players in their front seven to work at multiple positions, this club is not hurting for quality depth.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB/MLB Ray Lewis, ILB/WLB Jameel McClain, OLB/DE Paul Kruger, OLB/DE Courtney Upshaw
Backups: ILB Brendon Ayanbadejo, ILB Dannell Ellerbe, OLB Sergio Kindle

Starting LBs: Ray Lewis is the unquestioned leader and the face of the Ravens defense. At age 37 he may have lost a step, but he is playing with the same intensity he brought to the field 10 years ago and with virtually the same box score results. There was a point when everyone thought age and injuries had caught up with him, but Lewis played 57 consecutive games before missing 4 last season. He has finished among the top 12 seven times in the past nine years and was on pace to do so in 2011 before missing those games. The wheels have to stop turning at some point, but there is no reason to believe that will happen this year. The Ravens have had three different players start games alongside Lewis over the past few years and seem to have finally settled on Jameel McClain. That said, the way they shift alignments and move guys around, McClain is not necessarily an every down player. Paul Kruger will do his best Terrell Suggs imitation and rookie Courtney Upshaw is expected to replace Jarrett Johnson at strong outside linebacker. Kruger could put up pretty good numbers if your league software places him at DE as many do with Suggs. As an outside linebacker he is going to have little fantasy value. Johnson was a big part of the Ravens overall success but his contributions often went unrewarded in the box scores. Upshaw will likely share that fate.

Backup LBs: The Ravens have to be thinking about an heir to Ray Lewis but none of their current crop of young players has grabbed the spotlight. Both Brendon Ayanbadejo and Dannell Ellerbe have been given an opportunity to get on the field over the past three seasons and both have made a good showing. The competition for the ILB position opposite Lewis is never closed and all of the contenders seem to have their niche in the game plan on any given week. Of all the current backups, Sergio Kindle may be the most likely to have an impact. He has recovered from the horrible accident that threatened his career and has played well in spot duty since returning. If he continues to do so the coaching staff will find a way to get him on the field. The Suggs injury should give Kindle more opportunity to make an impact.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Ladarius Webb, CB Jimmy Smith, FS Ed Reed, SS Bernard Pollard
Backups: CB Cary Williams, CB Corey Graham, CB Asa Jackson, S Sean Considine, S Christian Thompson

Starting DBs: Historically the Baltimore secondary has hardly been a gold mine of box score production. That had changed over the last two seasons as Dawan Landry broke out and notched 86 solo tackles in 2010. Bernard Pollard was on a very similar pace last season once he was finally inserted into the lineup a full-time starter. Pollard proved himself to the Ravens organization and was rewarded with a three-year deal. At 225 pounds, he is an intimidating presence over the middle, excels at run support and also brings big-play ability to the mix. Pollard is a proven commodity for fantasy owners and is as safe a pick as can be found. There was a time when Ed Reed was arguably the most explosive big-play safety in the league. He is still a very good one but the numbers have cooled in recent years. Fantasy consistency has always been an issue with Reed due to the fact he lacks tackle numbers. With 55 solo stops, 20 passes defended, 5 picks and a pair of scores, Ladarius Webb had a surprisingly productive 2011 season. The question is, was it a fluke? The jury is still out on this one but keep in mind that his 2010 numbers were 47 tackles, 9 passes defended, and 2 picks with no scores. From season to season corner has traditionally been the most inconsistent position in the game. Proceed with care when it comes to Webb. Jimmy Smith spent most of last season as the team's nickel corner. He enters this season's activities with the expectation that he will start opposite Webb. Smith is a strong cover corner, but his play and production last season gave us no reason to expect big things in 2012.

Backup DBs: Cary Williams did a pretty good job as the starter in 2011. He covers well, is a sure tackler, and he does not give up many big plays. The other side of that coin is that he fails to make many big plays. Williams finished last season with 61 solo tackles and 18 passes defended, but he failed to intercept a pass in a scheme that is designed to create the big play. Williams will still see plenty of action as the team's nickel corner and is a serviceable starter if called upon again. Corey Graham gives the Ravens a solid fourth corner with a little starting experience. Baltimore's fifth-round pick Asa Jackson could prove to be a steal. Playing at a small school hurt his draft status but he has shown well against good competition when given the opportunity. He is seen as a developmental player with a lot of potential. If the Ravens have a weakness in the secondary it is depth at safety. Both Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura have moved on in search of starting opportunities. Veteran journeyman Sean Considine was picked up in free agency. He is a decent backup with limited upside and would be a big step down from either of the starters. Fourth-round pick Christian Thompson was another small school sleeper for the Ravens. He may well end up being the top backup at both safety positions this season and has the potential to develop into a starter down the road.

Last modified: 2012-09-02 20:36:15

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