Note: This piece was originally written on July 15th by Mark Morales-Smith and is one of many unique pieces that can be found in our 2014 fantasy football draft guide. None of this information has been updated since it was originally published.
The defending champs looked like anything but champions in 2013. The defense sputtered after losing an abundance of key players, including longtime cornerstones Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco looked lost without his trusted targets Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. The biggest disappointment of all may have been Ray Rice and the Ravens rushing attack. The Ravens were obvious victims of the dreaded Super Bowl hangover. They’ll look to get back on track in 2014 and return to their winning ways.
Joe Flacco enjoyed a major pay day after winning the Super Bowl MVP. He did not live up to his monster contract. With expectations higher than ever, he threw 22 interception (t-2nd most in the NFL) and just 19 TDs. Regardless, Flacco is the man in Baltimore and rightfully so. He has been an efficient QB who until last season had never been eliminated prior the second round of the playoffs. Much like Eli Manning, he is a game manager and steps up in the playoffs. While he was over-paid, he’s a proven winner that should bounce back to form in 2014. The addition of veteran Steve Smith and a healthy Dennis Pitta should go a long way in helping the Ravens passing game. His backup is former Hokie Tyrod Taylor. He has completed 19 NFL passes and has no fantasy relevance as of now.
Whether it was Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce carrying the rock, the Ravens rushing game was miserable in 2013. Rice averaged only 3.1 YPC, while Pierce managed to be even worse at 2.9. They rushed for less than 1,000 yards and just six TDs as a tandem. The backs looked awful, but the O-line may have looked even worse. The Ravens RBs are a huge question mark heading into the season. Rice is still atop the depth chart, but he is expected to be suspended for a good chunk of the season, stemming from a domestic assault incident. Pierce is expected to take the reins in Rice’s absence, but rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro may have other plans. He could conceivably jump Pierce on the depth chart and eventually even supplant Ray Rice as the Ravens feature back. While Ray Rice has an ADP of 73.55, he could have decent value. Still, every Baltimore RB is a high risk, and the reward may not be so great.
Torrey Smith’s fantasy numbers have increased each of his three seasons. He’s a big play boom-or-bust guy. Although he is inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, he still has a lot of fantasy value over a full season. They brought in longtime Carolina Panther Steve Smith to help Joe Flacco out with another reliable target. His best days may be behind him as he will be 35-years-old this season and is coming off perhaps the worst season of his career. The gutsy WR caught 64 passes for 745 yards and four TDs in 2013. He continued a steady decline in his production. Jacoby Jones will also get his opportunities down field but is not a polished enough WR to make a huge impact. Jones is a return man that plays a role in the passing game. The surprise of the Ravens WR corps could be second-year man Marlon Brown. As a rookie, Brown caught 49 passes for 524 yards and seven TDs last season. He is a big, powerful guy with outstanding body control and can high-point the ball. It should not be a surprise to fantasy owners if Brown surfaces as the Ravens WR2. Brown is currently going undrafted and could emerge as a legitimate flex option or at the very least a solid bench stash.
After missing the first 12 games of 2013 with a hip injury, Pitta is back to full health. Pitta’s presence was clearly missed in the Ravens passing game. Flacco looked lost without his safety-outlet. Expect Pitta to bounce back in a huge way this season. He’s a no-doubt top ten TE and much more likely to be up around the five slot. Baltimore also brought in highly productive Texans TE Owen Daniels. Daniels also dealt with injury last season. He is nothing more than a backup as of now, but if anything were to happen to Pitta, Daniels is a more than adequate replacement.
Like their offense, the Raven defense was not very good in 2013. They finished the season ranked as the 25th fantasy defense. A far cry from what we have grown accustom to seeing from the Baltimore defense. They are a unit in flux. Their core is all over the age of 30, while they also have tons of youth in their first two professional seasons. The Ravens as a franchise need to figure out exactly what their plan is for the defensive roster moving forward. While the Ravens D is expected to be much improved, they are far from a finished product. Expect enough big plays to give them value. Their points against may be a different story.