Expectations are high in Baltimore this season as the Ravens attempt to make the playoffs for the third year in a row during head coach John Harbaugh’s tenure with the team. With a collection of improving young players at key positions and aging but still-productive veterans, the Ravens roster is built to go deep into the playoffs in 2010.
On offense, the Ravens added veteran wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth and drafted two tight ends to give quarterback Joe Flacco more weapons to work with. The team used its first two draft picks on defense (nose tackle Terrence Cody and linebacker Sergio Kindle).
They also chose to hold on to veteran left tackle Jared Gaither and running back Willis McGahee, despite their hefty salaries and their potential replacements already on the roster.
Flacco took a step forward at quarterback last year, but the team’s breakout offensive player was running back Ray Rice. Rice burst out of the gates and never looked back, amassing over 2,000 total yards and proving to be equally effective as a runner and a pass catcher. Entering his third year, Rice figures to be the centerpiece of the Ravens offense for the next several years.
With Boldin on board and Derrick Mason back for another season, the Ravens possess a pair of superb possession receivers and excellent route runners. Boldin also remains a threat after the catch. Look for Stallworth, Mark Clayton, and Demetrius Williams to be utilized mainly on deep plays.
Todd Heap had a nice comeback season in 2009 after a pair of down years in 2007 and 2008. He finished the year with 593 receiving yards and six touchdowns. With Heap turning thirty, the Ravens drafted Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta as his eventual replacements.
With a solid defense and outstanding running game, the Ravens sneaked into the playoffs last year with a 9-7 record. However, more is expected in 2010. The defense and running game figure to be solid once again, so the onus is on Flacco to develop a more dynamic passing attack with his new weapons if the Ravens expect to go deep into the playoffs.
Flacco started out on fire in 2009 with 131 fantasy points over his first six games. However, he came back down to earth soon after, averaging under 14 points per game over the rest of the season on his way to finishing as the 17th-ranked fantasy quarterback. The question with Flacco is, is he the player we saw for the first part of 2009 or the one who struggled to produce over the season’s final ten games?
With the addition of Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth—as well as Derrick Mason’s return—the easy answer is that he’s the guy we saw early in 2009. However, the Ravens remain a team that is dedicated to running the ball, and they return their top three running backs from last year. Look for Flacco to improve upon his 17th-place ranking in 2009 but to remain a fantasy backup in 2010.
Rice literally took the ball and ran with it in 2009, bursting onto the fantasy scene with 2,041 total yards and eight touchdowns. His 78 receptions were an added bonus in PPR leagues. The consensus for 2009 seems to be that the diminutive Rice is the fourth-ranked running back, though in a tier (perhaps by himself) behind Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Here’s a little tip to consider: During the last 12 weeks of the 2009 season, Rice had 42 red zone touches while Willis McGahee had 16. He could break into the top three at running back if that trend continues in 2010.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Ravens decided to bring McGahee back this year. While he played extremely well early in 2009—looking as good as he did when he was at his peak with the Bills—the Ravens oddly jettisoned him to the bench in favor of Ray Rice. That decision proved to be the correct move.
While McGahee had 146 fantasy points last year, which is very respectable for a backup, 113 of those points came in five games. He doesn’t fulfill the role as third-down back, so he isn’t an option in flex leagues; but Rice owners certainly will want to get McGahee as a handcuff.
McClain is caught in a numbers game in Baltimore, stuck behind Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. Unless he can beat out McGahee, his fantasy stock in 2010 should be considered worthless. Provided you have a roster spot to stash him, he might be useful in dynasty leagues beginning in 2011, since McGahee isn’t expected back after this season.
While some may draft McClain hoping for a return to his solid production in 2008, the bottom line is that he had only 67 touches last year and remains third on the depth chart.
Boldin qualifies as one of the more perplexing players to predict in 2010. While he escapes Larry Fitzgerald’s shadow in Arizona, moving to the run-heavy offense of the Ravens can hardly be considered an elixir for his fantasy production. To make matters worse, the Ravens utilize Ray Rice heavily in a pass-catching role out of the backfield, tight end Todd Heap is coming off a bounce back season, and the ever-reliable Derrick Mason returns to go along with deep threats Donte Stallworth and Mark Clatyon.
It’s hard to predict more than 1,000 yards from Boldin, which means he’s going to need to rely on touchdowns to be a solid WR2 in 2010. Don’t expect that to happen—Boldin should be viewed as a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3.
Mason is back in Baltimore for another season, but now he will be playing second fiddle to Boldin. Basically, there’s no reason to think he will reprise his role from previous seasons. Mason and Boldin are similar players, except Boldin is bigger, stronger, and faster. In addition, the team is four deep at wide receiver and Ray Rice and Todd Heap are also solid receivers who will eat into Mason’s targets in 2010. He is a low-end WR3 without much upside.
After Clayton had 67 receptions for 939 yards and five touchdowns during his second year in the league in 2006, it appeared that he was on his way to eventually replacing Derrick Mason as the Ravens top wide receiver. However, after three consecutive disappointing seasons, Clayton is now likely to be relegated to the fourth wide receiver role in Baltimore—or even with a new team in 2010.
He is coming off a season in which he finished with 34 receptions for 480 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he is facing a diminished role. Stay away.
Stallworth returns to the league after serving a season long suspension as the result of a traffic accident that took a man’s life after the 2008 season. He is a one-dimensional burner—a player who makes the occasional spectacular play but has been unable to perform well consistently or remain healthy for extended periods. There’s no reason to expect that to change in Baltimore in 2010. He’s not draftable.
Heap had a surprisingly solid season in 2009. On the downside, he’s about to turn 30 years old, he’s injury prone, and the Ravens added two tight ends in the NFL draft. However, the rookies aren’t expected to be ready to contribute early in 2010, which gives Heap plenty of time to solidify his starting status. Look for Heap to ride the coattails of a solid Ravens offense to decent fantasy production in 2010.