The Baltimore Ravens were one of three surprise teams last season along with Atlanta and Miami. The Ravens traded up and drafted quarterback Joe Flacco in 2008 to provide an answer to one of many team needs. Little did the Ravens know that Flacco was the answer to all their needs, as he led the Ravens to the AFC Championship game and a surprising 11-5 record.
Head Coach John Harbaugh has become the Baltimore version of Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin. In his first year, he led the team to the AFC Championship, kind of like Tomlin. Now all he has to do is win a Super Bowl, but that’s for another time.
Joe Flacco is on Mount Everest right now from taking the Ravens to within one game of the Super Bowl in his first year, and this was with one of the 5 hardest schedules in the league. Now he faces teams like Oakland and Kansas City, so another shot at the Championship game may be in the near future.
The other big surprise, along with Flacco, was the running back core of the Ravens. The trio of Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain, and Ray Rice led the offensive attack and made Flacco’s job a lot easier. McGahee didn’t do much during the season, but he showed up big in the playoffs. McClain was a huge surprise as he led the team in rushing with almost 1,000 yards last season, and he’s the fullback. Ray Rice showed why he will be the future #1 back, but was injured late last season so he could not strut his stuff in the playoffs.
The offensive line proved its worth by protecting Flacco and opening huge holes for the three-headed monster. The line will be destructive next year as the Ravens have added the best center in the league in Matt Birk. Birk and Steve Hutchinson were huge reasons why holes, spanding 3 yards, existed for Adrian Peterson to run through and become the top back in the NFL. Plus, the Ravens used their 1st rounder to draft right tackle Michael Oher creating, what could become, bookend tackles between Oher and the 6’9 monster Jared Gaither.
The defensive line is still the run-stopping force of the league with the walls Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata up the middle. These two, along with Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, and newly acquired Dominique Foxworth, will make sure the defense does not lose any of its dominance it had showed for years under Rex Ryan.
The Ravens’ wide receivers are lacking. Derrick Mason is the #1 receiver, but he is 32 going on 60 and cannot be “the guy” for too much longer. Mark Clayton needs to step up or teams will start keying off on the run game. Also, the tight end position needs improvement as Todd Heap is no longer the Pro Bowl tight end due to injuries, and the Ravens signed L.J. Smith who is also injury prone. Either the Ravens will have the best 1-2 tight end combo in the league or no tight ends at all.
The Ravens’ defense lost Bart Scott, Jim Leonard, Corey Ivy, Chris McAlister, and most of all Rex Ryan. These guys were crucial to the success of the defense over the past few years and now most are in New York building a top 5 defense. The glue is still in Baltimore but the pieces may no longer be there for the defense.
The Ravens released the last true Brown in kicker Matt Stover. Reports say they are going newer and younger, but this guy has been a premier kicker in the league for years, and you do not see the Panthers, Browns, or Steelers getting rid of their old kickers and two of those kickers are as old as Stover.
Due to lack of receiving options, Flacco is not a stand- out quarterback when it comes to numbers, so I would wait until he has easy-as-pie opponents like a Kansas City.
Derrick Mason is a reliable 3rd wide receiver and will be Flacco’s #1 target.
The Ravens’ running backs are tricky to choose, but I think McClain and Rice will be good #3 backs with upside. McGahee should prove himself before being added to your roster.
The defense is still a top fantasy defense as it will still create a lot of sacks, give up few rushing yards, and Ed Reed will still be returning interceptions for touchdowns.
The sleeper is the healthy tight end of the Ravens. Whether it be Lewis or Heap, Flacco is still young and will confide in his tight end when he gets into trouble.