The NFL Season is quickly approaching and TheSportsCannon.com has been working furiously to give you the best fantasy football rankings 2011. Part of determining fantasy football sleepers, busts and projections is analyzing each NFL team.
In our 2011 NFL Predictions, we analyze the pending NFL trade rumors, NFL free agent signings, coaching schemes and strength of schedules. In each team preview, we will try and give you the best fantasy football draft strategy for picking up your favorite player, as well as which player you should avoid.
In our seventh installment of the Fantasy Football Team Previews we will analyze the 2011 season for the Baltimore Ravens.
The Baltimore Ravens were a preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl when they had a serious influx of talent to their receiving corps. Big name free agent acquisitions came in, but the team still was unable to get over the “Pittsburgh hump.” The Ravens lost to their division rival Steelers once again in at Heinz Field in the playoffs.
The Ravens offense struggled to find an identity last season, unsure whether they should rely on their workhorse running back or franchise quarterback. Both players had their own relative success, but the team shifted its focus each game causing a bit of confusion.
The Ravens’ fan base wasn’t happy with their offensive play calling last season, but the Ravens still featured a top-ten fantasy running back and quarterback (if his numbers improve for the third straight season).
The Ravens defense still ended the year statistically as one of the best in football but couldn’t live up to their status quo. The Ravens defense saw an uncharacteristic slide in fantasy football last year, ranked ninth overall. This could largely be due to the fact that the Ravens finished the year ranked 27th overall in sacks; they have seen that total drop significantly since the departure of Rex Ryan to the New York Jets.
Head Coach John Harbaugh will look to continue his incredible success as an NFL head coach in his third season with the Ravens. Harbaugh comes from a long history as a secondary coach but is known more for his prowess on the defensive side of the ball, mainly with the secondary.
Harbaugh is a very tough coach to play for, but will more often than not prepare his players better than most. There are some rumors that veterans will elect not to join the Ravens or resign because of his tough style.
Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron enters his third season as the OC with the Ravens despite many people calling for his firing last season. There is no doubt that Cameron is a conservative-minded offensive coach and he rarely allowed outside interests affect his play calling.
This year, Cameron has cut out about 40% of last year’s playbook and will focus more on a power running style. He also claimed he will take in more input from his assistants. Overall, we think this is Cameron’s last year as coordinator in Baltimore, and that the change in schemes will actually derail the Ravens offense.
Last year’s Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison left to coach the defense at the University of Michigan, making former secondary coach Chuck Pagano the team’s new DC. Pagano is well received by his players and helped to create some consistency in the secondary last year when injuries depleted the unit.
Joe Flacco wasn’t happy when the team fired his quarterback’s coach, Jim Zorn, and may have taken it a bit personally. Flacco will now be coached primarily by OC Cam Cameron and will have to do more with less to work with.
The added pressure and offensive scrutiny may have been the best thing to happen to Flacco, however. Flacco put on about ten pounds of muscle in the offseason and by all accounts so far is looking extremely sharp in practice. There are some that feel 2011 will be a big year for Flacco; meaning he will make the jump in to the “elite” category.
We’re not sure what that impact will be in fantasy, however. Ben Roethlisberger is also considered “elite” but is by no means a fantasy star. We predict Flacco will see a dip in production this year as it appears the Ravens will focus more on the run in 2011.
This doesn’t mean you should abandon ship on Flacco, however. He still has a strong offensive line and a very good receiver in Anquan Boldin. Were just not sure his preseason hype means fantasy stardom.
All indications are that this will be a big year for Ray Rice. The Ravens are going to focus their attention on the running game, and should see more consistency in their approach now that the offensive line is healthy.
The biggest move the Ravens may have made this year will be the resigning of Right Guard Marshal Yanda. Last year Yanda played out of his normal guard position as a tackle and it affected the Ravens ability to run inside. Although the team will likely have to rely on either rookie Jah Reid or Oniel Cousins to play Right Tackle now, the running game is better with Yanda in the middle.
Another very wise pickup for the Ravens was the signing of Vonta Leach. Former Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain wanted an increased role in the running game and the Ravens decided that wouldn’t be part of their plans. It wasn’t part of anyone’s plans in fact, as McClain signed a one year deal with Kansas City to play primarily as a fullback.
It is hard to find a better run blocking fullback than McClain, but the Ravens did it when they signed Leach. In doing so they likely made him the highest paid fullback in football.
When the Ravens let Willis McGahee walk in free agency, many believed that Rice would take over as the primary goal line back and his value would climb even higher. The Ravens may have let McGahee go, but recently signed Ricky Williams to take his place. Don’t go expecting Williams to be vulture touchdowns, however. It was revealed by the Ravens today that Rice will be the goal line back.
Rice right now is ranked as our sixth ranked running back, but you can expect that to change as we feel Rice could be a top-three back in fantasy.
Last year it looked like the Ravens had one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. This year the departure of TJ Houshmandzadeh, Derrick Mason and Donte’ Stallworth has left a lot of question marks in the Ravens passing game.
Anquan Boldin is a very good wide receiver, but will be 31 in October. There is no doubt that Boldin fell off at the tail end of last season, often times becoming invisible as he was unable to separate from opposing corner backs. Boldin will no doubt be Flacco’s go-to-receiver, but how he holds up over the course of the year with a tough coach will determine his value.
The recent addition of Lee Evans looks great for the Ravens, on paper. We're not buying it, however, and think the Ravens oversold on Evans by trading away a fourth round pick next year. Evans will likely have the same role on this offense as he failed to live up to in Buffalo. At 30 years old and without a productive season under his belt, we think Evans will look a lot like Stallworth from a year ago.
There are definitely reasons to be excited with the receiving corps if you are a Ravens fan, however. Despite just about every free agent wide receiver making a stop in to Baltimore, the Ravens haven’t been all that impressed. They haven’t been willing to shell out the big bucks because they think they have their future in the position wrapped up with rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss.
Torrey Smith is expected to start opposite of Boldin, and will be asked to use his speed to stretch the field. So far in training camp, Smith has really impressed with his speed and has been hard to stop. He also has displayed very good hands while making some acrobatic catches over defenders—Ravens defenders.
Tandon Doss was selected in the fourth round, but many believe that had he not just come off of two surgeries to repair torn groin muscles, Doss would’ve been selected much higher. Doss is more of a possession receiver in the mold of Anquan Boldin and was drafted by the team per the request of Joe Flacco.
Torrey Smith looks to have the greatest impact of the two rookie receivers, but don’t forget about Doss. This year, however, no Raven receiver should make a big splash as the team will no doubt focus on the run. Boldin, at best, is a WR2 and the two inspiring rooks should sit on your bench all year if you draft them. In a deep league or dynasty league however, both rookies are great picks if you don’t mind waiting a year or two for them to break out.
It was an end to an era when Todd Heap left the Ravens to become an Arizona Cardinal, but the aging and injury prone vet would’ve faced stiff competition from second year TEs Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
Dickson has the advantage and should be the team’s starter in week one. Don’t count Pitta out just yet, though. The knock on Dickson is his run blocking, something the team will rely on this year. Pitta is a much better run blocker and would have cut in to Dickson’s time on the field. Add the fact that John Harbaugh has compared Pitta to Todd Heap and you’ve got a serious controversy.
The Ravens are getting older on defense, but remain one of the best in the business. A shocking stat that has somewhat gone unnoticed are the eighth interceptions that 32-year-old Ed Reed recorded in only ten games.
Reed can still get it done at an elite level in the secondary, but the Ravens will have to find a way to pressure the quarterback more this season. The Ravens are hoping that Paul Kruger could be the guy that helps revitalize the Ravens pass rush that has become reliant on Terrell Suggs.
Kruger was drafted to play defensive end, but has been wowing at OLB so far this training camp. The Ravens will surely need Kruger to step up if they want to return to a top-5 fantasy defense.
Billy Cundiff will remain the Ravens’ kicker for some time, recently signing a five year contract that should see the strong legged kicker end his career as a Raven. Cundiff made his money with his 40 touchbacks last season, but he also went 26 for 29 in field goal attempts.
Torrey Smith – The Ravens signed Lee Evans because Smith has had trouble picking up the offense in this shortened training camp, but we don't expect that to last long. Once Smith becomes more prepared he will no doubt unseat Evans. Joe Flacco put on ten pounds of muscle which means he has upgraded his cannon. Anquan Boldin will command some extra attention, but we think it is the streaking speed of Smith that opposing defenses should be wary of.
Anquan Boldin – He really fell apart at the end of the year and showed his age. The Ravens are in love with their two rookie receivers and because of that have passed on numerous free agent receivers. Boldin’s days are numbered as the primary pass catcher in Baltimore.