Baltimore Ravens: Power Ranking the Ravens' Fantasy Options

Jack OwensCorrespondent IAugust 7, 2012

Baltimore Ravens: Power Ranking the Ravens' Fantasy Options

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    As the calendar year moves into August, fantasy owners across the globe are now going through their usual preseason rituals. From countless mock drafts, cheat sheets and hours spent compiling ADP data, to the fantasy magazines owners glance over in convenience stores but never buy, August means the fantasy season has begun.

    One useful method for fantasy advice developed in recent years are fantasy juggernaut rankings. These team by team rankings do not rank players individually but rather rank NFL teams on the likeliness of them producing fantasy studs or starters.The likely suspects to finish near the top in this years rankings (which can be followed here at Yahoo! Sports) are teams like the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, who boast two of the best passing attacks in the league. But a team who could make a large leap into the upper echelon of juggernaut rankings, and deservedly so, are the Baltimore Ravens.

    Though the Ravens enter the 2012 season with many questions surrounding them, many of those come on the defensive side of the ball and involve the replacement of reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs. With the signing of Ray Rice and improvements in the offensive line depth, questions about the offense seem to have subsided, as optimism brews about the Joe Flacco-led offense that has been crisp throughout training camp.

    It would be strange to think of a Ravens team whose strength is their offense, as the Ravens defense has long been the team's most consistent fantasy performer, but all signs are pointing to a 2012 that should be the most prolific offense in the franchise's 15-year history.

    Here are the players that will make this offensive machine go when the season begins in September, with each ranked from most potentially valuable to the least. Each player's ADP (Average Draft Position) value is listed next to their name, with that data courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.

1. Ray Rice (ADP: 3.2)

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    The most valuable Raven player for fantasy purposes is Ray Rice, who will be selected in most drafts somewhere in the consensus top four of himself, Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and Aaron Rodgers. Not only is Rice one of just a handful of workhorse backs still remaining in the NFL, but his durability makes him one of the lower-risk options in the first round. This quality is particularly impressive considering Rice plays the position many deem the most susceptible to injury in the NFL.

    Rice posted a career-high rushing total in 2011, churning out 1,364 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. His 12 touchdowns on the ground were also a career high, as he was finally the featured running back after splitting carries with Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain in previous years.

    Rice also added 76 receptions, 704 yards and three touchdowns through the air, leading him to an impressive 2,068 yards from scrimmage to go with 15 touchdowns. This is a stellar fantasy season in any year, and one worthy of the top five pick many spent on him last season.

    Given his favorable new contract status and the fact that he wants to remain a Raven until retirement, a happy Ray Rice should put up good numbers in 2012. Owners should feel comfortable taking him with the No. 1 overall pick, as he will once again be the focal point of an offense looking to take some of the immense pressure off quarterback Joe Flacco. With talented but unproven younger backs behind him on the depth chart, there is no doubt Rice will get a minimum of 20 touches per game.

    Projected Stats: 313 carries, 1,486 yards, 59 catches, 680 yards, 18 total TDs

    Grade: 1st round (top 3)

    Bonus: Stud, Worthy of naming your team after him

2. Torrey Smith (ADP: 70.8)

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    One of the pleasant surprises of the Ravens' offense from a year ago, Torrey Smith, will look to improve on his rookie totals after his first full year of offseason workouts, OTAs, minicamps and training camp. Though Smith caught just 50 passes a year ago, he made the most of his receptions, averaging 16.8 yards per catch and leading the team with seven receiving touchdowns.

    Smith provided the deep threat and downfield playmaking ability the Ravens offense had been searching for. With Flacco's greatest attribute as a quarterback being his deep ball, and the ability of Smith to separate from almost any defensive back when running downfield, it would not be surprising to see this tandem combine for big things in 2012. With Anquan Boldin and Ray Rice keeping defenses honest, look for Torrey Smith to be the one to break defense's backs with his speed.

    A regular at the Ravens training complex, now known as the Under Armour Performance Center, Smith is looking for big things from himself going into this season. The former Maryland Terrapin has always drawn praise from Flacco for working on his hands, and with more development in his route running ability, Smith could have an impact on the game similar to the impact the Steelers' Mike Wallace has had in Pittsburgh. Smith is currently being drafted after Stevie Johnson but in the same region as Kenny Britt, Robert Meachem and Reggie Wayne. These receivers all have high upside and are reasonable company for Smith to be in.

    Projected Stats: 70 catches, 1,057 yards, 9 TDs (1 rushing)

    Grade: 7th round, No. 2/3 receiver

    Bonus: Tremendous Upside, Strong Character

3. Anquan Boldin (ADP: 100)

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    Many have been unimpressed with Anquan Boldin's statistical output since he became a Raven. Though a large drop-off has occurred since his record-setting Arizona days, when he became the fastest player to reach 300 receptions, Boldin remains highly effective. He led the Ravens in receiving yards a year ago with 887 yards, and despite questions about his speed, he reached this total on only 57 catches, good for 15.6 yards per catch.

    Boldin also turned in two excellent performances in the playoffs with 73 yards and a score against the Texans and 101 yards against the Patriots, including several key catches that set the Ravens up in field goal range (sigh). His fearlessness over the middle has long been a staple of his game, and with the Ravens making improvements to their receivers on the outside, the middle of the field should be his, particularly 10 yards down the field and away from Rice's short range dump off area that Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco both love so much. 

    The receivers being picked around Boldin's ADP of 100 are Darrius Heyward-Bey, Malcolm Floyd, Santonio Holmes and Pierre Garcon. This is the tier of receivers that is starter material in deeper leagues, as flex plays or as strong No. 3 receivers, and after them there are few dependable options.

    Those owners who emphasize the running back, tight end or quarterback positions early will likely have to choose between this tier. Though all are good options, Boldin's consistency and predictability make him useful even if he rarely exceeds numbers along the lines of 80 yards and a touchdown.

    Considering Torrey Smith is likely to go higher than Boldin, good value could be had for the veteran, who could very likely outproduce the young speedster, especially if defenses start to key on Smith more than Boldin.

    Projected Stats: 76 catches, 952 yards, 5 TDs

    Rank: 10th round, No. 3 receiver

    Bonus: Good Value, Never has 'dud' games

4. Joe Flacco (ADP: 133.9)

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    You'd have to be very bold to go into your fantasy season with Joe Flacco as your starting QB. Fantasy theorists for years preached the method of waiting for a QB until the later rounds while shoring up the more important running back and receiver positions, and swore against drafting quarterbacks in the first round. Now those theories seem to be a part of the past, as three quarterbacks could go in the first round, and another two before round three begins. These elite fantasy QBs can put up as many as 30 points a week in some leagues, enough to make huge Monday night comebacks a possibility and save you when the rest of your team does not show up.

    Because he threw only 20 touchdowns a year ago, Flacco is under-appreciated in the fantasy world. Though he rarely has 300 yard, three touchdown performances, he is a sure bet to put up these kinds of numbers against lower-tier teams. His playoff performance against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game a year ago has his confidence riding high, so much so that over the offseason he made the media aware of his belief that he is the best at his position in the NFL. Such confidence is never a bad thing, and Joe has proven that the media's criticisms of him do not affect the way he plays.

    As can be inferred from the receiving projections given to Rice, Smith and Boldin, it is clear I believe Flacco will have an excellent year distributing the ball. He is playing for a big contract and is very motivated to prove himself as the best quarterback in the league. It is indisputable that Flacco throws one of the best deep balls in the game, and added speed on the outside will only further aid this talent of his.

    Flacco is as good of a backup QB as you can get, and in two-QB leagues certainly a viable starter. If you believe in drafting a top QB and trading them away for a good running back come midseason, this approach could pay dividends if Flacco is on your bench. His current ADP falls below less proven, more upside-oriented quarterbacks like Andy Dalton, Josh Freeman and even Matt Flynn. If you are willing to take a risk on one of them, why not wait and take Flacco a few rounds later?

    Projected Stats: 67% completion rate, 3,900 yards, 29 TDs, 13 INTs, 300 yards rushing, 2 TDs, 3 fumbles lost

    Rank: 13th round, No. 2 QB

    Bonus: Great value, chip on his shoulder, growing confidence, extremely durable


5. Ravens D/ST (ADP: 110.8)

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    This unit has long been a force to be reckoned with. Even without the Defensive Player of the Year, this defense is full of talent. An improved secondary that already had Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Pro Bowl-snub Lardarius Webb and the up-and-coming Jimmy Smith will be the strength of the team. Ray Lewis leads this unit better than any player leads their side of the ball in the league, as this defense is sure to finish near the top five in turnovers forced. 

    Dean Pees is in his first season as Defensive Coordinator since he manned the same position for the New England Patriots during two of their Super Bowl wins. Pees' biggest assignment is getting OLBs Paul Kruger, Sergio Kindle, Albert McClellan and rookie Courtney Upshaw to regain the fierce pass rush that made this unit dominant a year ago. Everyone in the Ravens building is confident Pees can handle this task.

    While the 49ers are the clear-cut best defensive unit in the NFL, the Ravens, despite the adversity they head into 2012 with, will challenge the Steelers, Jets, Texans and Eagles for the title of number two. Any owner who comes away from their draft with the Ravens D should expect to win one or two extra games from opportunistic interception returns for touchdowns. It is always a safe bet to trust Ray Lewis, and trust in him you should.

    Projected Stats: 38 sacks, 24 INTs, 9 fumble recoveries, 3 defensiveTDs, 2 special teams TDs, 16.2 ppg

    Rank: 11th round, starting D/ST

    Bonus: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Ball So Hard University

6. Ed Dickson (ADP: Undrafted)

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    With Dennis Pitta needing surgery on his hand, the door is open for Ed Dickson to continue his success from a year ago. Though Pitta was the more reliable option down the stretch, Dickson is an effective red zone target on a team with limited size at the receiver position. Dickson also benefits from having great speed, and though he is undersized and not an effective blocker, with work on his blocking he could develop into a dependable starting tight end.

    In 2011 he finished third on the team with 54 catches and second with five receiving touchdowns. Though he and Pitta both have durability concerns, and neither consistently outperforms the other, Dickson is a solid bye-week plug-in at tight end and if he develops a strong rapport with Flacco over the preseason, he could become the third-best receiving option on the team.

    Neither tight end is worth drafting, as backup tight ends are typically a waste of a pick, but every year certain players come out of nowhere to become strong fantasy options, so you never know.

    Projected Stats: 46 catches, 512 yards, 5 TDs

    Rank: Undrafted, Free agent TE

    Bonus: Good speed, red zone threat, tends to be wide open

Honorable Mentions

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    Other Ravens who will not be drafted, but should be on your radar once the Ravens surprise everyone as a top-5 offensive team:

    Dennis Pitta, TE - if healthy, he is Flacco's safety valve and best friend on the team.

    Anthony Allen, RB - If Rice goes down, this is who you want. Though he may not gain more yards than rookie third-round pick Bernard Pierce, he will certainly score more touchdowns. A big back who runs with power and speed, Allen should shine in the preseason.

    LaQuan Williams, WR - A tireless worker who made the team as an undrafted free agent a year ago, Williams has return skills which he translates well to the receiver position.

    Tandon Doss, WR - With many of the receivers on the roster falling more into the speed category than the possession category, Doss may see more time due to his sure hands. He has impressed in camp, and I expect him to outproduce free agent acquisition Jacoby Jones, though Jones will have a few deep touchdowns.

    Billy Cundiff, K - He's facing stiff competition from rookie Justin Tucker out of Texas, and he's on a short leash, but on an offense that moves the ball but tends to struggle in the red zone, he will get his chances.

     

    Invest in the Ravens offense in 2012, You will not regret it!