By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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In 2017 the Ravens looked so much better on paper than they did in real life. Per tradition, they were solid on defense — 6th in scoring defense — and a team built around its running game that finished 11th. Baltimore’s Defense/Special Teams unit finished as 3rd best in fantasy and they had two RBs, Javorius “Buck” Allen and Alex Collins, finish in the top 25 in fantasy, each scoring over 150 fantasy points. But man, did their passing game look like it belonged playing on Fridays. Joe Flacco — well, my mom always told me if I had nothing nice to say not to say anything at all. Good thing I rarely listen. Flacco was abysmal in 2017. He finished with 3,141 passing yards and 18 TDs. There are QBs that run a triple option offense with better numbers than that. What I’m getting at is, it’s a freakin’ miracle the Ravens were in playoff contention at the end of last season.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Robert Griffin III||N/A||N/A|
|QB3||(R) Lamar Jackson||N/A||N/A|
|RB3||Javorius “Buck” Allen||162.40||RB20|
|RB4||(R) Gus Edwards||N/A||N/A|
|WR1||Michael Crabtree (w/ OAK)||168.10||WR27|
|WR2||John Brown (w/ ARI)||69.90||WR84|
|WR3||Willie Snead IV (w/ NO)||15.20||WR145|
|WR5||(R) Jordan Lasley||N/A||N/A|
|TE1||(R) Hayden Hurst||N/A||N/A|
|TE2||(R) Mark Andrews||N/A||N/A|
My goal in this section is to come up with 10 insults at Joe Flacco’s expense. And yes, I’m counting that one. Flacco was dreadful last year. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 29th best QB in 2017. The three QBs ranked 26-28? Tom Savage, Brian Hoyer, and Mitchell Trubisky. Flacco’s 3,141 passing yards were only 43 yards more than Jacoby Brissett, the Colts’ QB that had less than a week to learn the playbook before starting the season. Flacco’s 18 passing TDs were one less than Smokin’ Jay Cutler’s 19. Flacco had a QB rating of 87.6 with a clean pocket. That ranked 30th in the league, behind names like Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian. His QB rating on play action passes? 63.0, 36th in the NFL. His 7 INTs on play action passes led the NFL. And the closer, Flacco finished as QB25 in fantasy. QB24 was Deshaun Watson, who played in seven and a half games. In case I wasn’t clear before, Flacco was awful in 2017. Flacco barely qualifies as a starter in 2 QB leagues so you know he’s not sniffing your lineup in any other type of league.
The only reason to think Flacco could bounce back is because the Ravens decided to draft a QB in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. And not just any QB. The Ravens selected Louisville rockstar Lamar Jackson. Flacco should rightfully feel threatened. Jackson is electric. Fun fact: the first RB drafted this year was Saquon Barkley. Jackson has more career rushing yards than Barkley. And Jackson did that while throwing for 8,872 yards. Chew on that for a second. Jackson has the potential to light the league on fire, not like Deshaun Watson did last year, but how Michael Vick did some 15+ years ago. You’re stashing Jackson in Dynasty — like I did — because the only way he takes a snap this year is if Flacco breaks a bone, tears a tendon, and/or Robert Griffin III is still the same QB we last saw leading the Browns to their only win in the last two years.
The Ravens had high hopes for their running game in 2017. Their 2016 4th round pick out of Louisiana Tech, Kenneth Dixon, ended 2016 on a high note and was supposed to be their golden boy in 2017. But a torn meniscus during the offseason coupled with a six game suspension made for an incomplete on his resume. Luckily for him and the Ravens, Dixon was able to serve the suspension while injured, so he gets a clean bill of health heading into 2018. Except now there’s legit competition in his way.
Alex Collins was signed to the Ravens practice squad after being released by the Seahawks after one season and a training camp. When the since-released Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring, they promoted Collins to the active roster and they never looked back. Collins eventually took over the starting role, averaging 4.6 yards per carry while falling 27 yards shy of his first 1,000 yard season. He chipped in 23 receptions and 6 TDs en route to a RB23 finish. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins graded as the best running back on rushing plays in the NFL in 2017. Collins also finished with 2.98 yards after contact per rushing attempt, 7th in the league. Collins is an aggressive runner and fits the playing style that the Ravens employ quite well. He’s solid in the passing game but not a true three-down back. That and the likely committee Collins will take part in makes him a low end RB2 at best. I’d rather draft him as my number 3 RB, with an obvious option as a FLEX.
The committee will also include Dixon. He and Collins are likely 1A and 1B, much like what New Orleans runs with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, just not as potent. Dixon has obvious skills as a passing down back, with over 30 receptions in each of his last two seasons at Louisiana Tech and with 30 exactly in 12 games during his rookie season. That and his 4.3 yards per carry average may mean he’s a better overall back than Collins. But Collins’ 2017 breakout means Dixon will have to earn back the job and more playing time. Dixon will get his touches at the expense of Collins, but he isn’t anything more than a RB4 on draft day, likely between rounds 8 and 12. That obviously could change as the season progresses, making Dixon an intriguing stash for the potential he provides if he secures the lead role at any point in the season.
The actual change of pace back in Baltimore is the guy who was the most productive for the Ravens in 2017. Javorius “Buck” Allen finished as RB20, with much of his damage in the early part of the season before Collins emerged. From Weeks 1 through 9, he was a solid RB2 as fantasy’s 16th best running back. His 841 total yards with 6 TDs and 46 receptions overall translated to 162.40 fantasy points, proof that he can hold his own. Much of that was because Danny Woodhead was hurt. This isn’t the first year Allen had a major role in the Ravens offense, though. In 2015, he had similar production — 867 total yards and 3 TDs with 45 receptions — and finished as RB34, scoring 132.70 fantasy points. Allen’s role is more defined this year, with Woodhead retiring and Collins and Dixon duking it out for early down work. Allen is nothing more than an occasional FLEX option when facing teams who struggle against pass-catching backs.
The Ravens as a team had the 4th fewest receiving yards in the NFL last season. Their three leading pass-catchers from 2017 — WRs Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin and TE Benjamin Watson — are no longer on the team. None of them topped 750 receiving yards. In fact, they were the only three on the team who topped 400 receiving yards. With this stable of inefficient wide receivers, change was on the horizon. Wallace and Watson weren’t re-signed and Maclin was cut. The Ravens went out and signed Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead IV this offseason.
Crabtree has been a very reliable wideout for the Raiders over the last three years. In fact, Crabtree is 5th in the NFL with 25 receiving TDs during that time. He’s also 10th in receptions. Crabtree can be a reliable target for Flacco and the Ravens, but he’s not a traditional number one option. He’s not going to take over games the way an Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr. can, but he can average 6 catches for 60 yards with a TD every other week and those can easily be WR2 numbers. What will honestly bring Crabtree’s value down is the inadequate play of Flacco. I would look at Crabtree to finish in the top 30, representing WR3 value, but he’s likely to be drafted lower than that because there isn’t a ton of upside. You know what you’re getting with him and there’s nothing remotely sexy about having him on your roster.
John Brown presents some upside. We’ve seen a 1,000 yard receiving season from him in the past, but nothing short of disappointment since. He’s faced his share of injuries, but he has speed and can stretch the field with the best of them. In only one season has he ever had less than 14 yards per reception. Because of the injuries and inconsistencies, Brown is a lottery ticket, or sleeper if you read Joe’s section below. He’s a late round flash in the pan at best.
Willie Snead IV is an enigma. His first two years in New Orleans, he looked like a budding number 2 receiver in one of the top offenses in the league. During his 2016 season, he ran 77% of his routes from the slot and had the most receiving yards from that position in the league. 2017 was a different story. He was suspended early in the season and fell out of favor as the Saints switched things up, making their running back tandem of Ingram and Kamara more of a focal point than the wide receivers. All told, Snead had only 8 catches, down significantly from the 141 he totaled over 2015 and 2016. The Ravens hope Snead can regain some of that ‘15 & ‘16 form and help a paltry Ravens receiving corps regain some respectability. Like Brown, Snead is a lottery ticket. Truth be told, I’d rather have Snead than Brown based on past production. Of the two, he’s more likely to find his way into top 50 territory. Snead has top 40 upside with consistent QB play, which you know doesn’t exist in Baltimore. Have I mentioned how little I think of Flacco?
Then there is Breshad Perriman and rookie Jordan Lasley. Perriman is the former 1st round pick who has looked more like an undrafted free agent that keeps getting chances that should go to other undrafted free agents. I think it’s safe to say 2018 is Perriman’s last chance in Baltimore. Lasley is the rookie 5th round pick who could’ve easily been a 1st or 2nd rounder if not for some baggage. Lasley has some lapses in judgement that put his availability in question. But when he wasn’t suspended, he was Josh Rosen’s favorite target. In his final season with Rosen at UCLA, he had 61 catches for 1,136 yards and 8 TDs. The Ravens took a chance on the kid because he’s talented and feel they have an infrastructure that can help him keep his head on straight. Lasley is a quality Dynasty stash who, if Brown is ineffective, could be a solid number three option for a team in desperate need of an offensive infusion.
The Ravens have been in flux at tight end for some time. They had a quality TE in Dennis Pitta until a hip injury derailed his career. He managed one last solid season in 2016 but suffered another injury and “retired.” (Not officially, but he was cut last summer.) Recent draft picks like Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams haven’t panned out so the Ravens went back to the drawing board during this year’s draft, selecting South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst in the 1st round and doubling down with Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews in the 3rd round.
Hurst will see immediate action and should be penciled in as their Week 1 starter. Flacco has an affinity for throwing to his TEs and a talent like Hurst should benefit. Hurst was Chris Tyler’s (Club Fantasy’s resident College Analyst) number one TE from this year’s draft. He had 100 catches in his career and ran a 4.67 40. Oh, and he used to play baseball. Hurst is arguably the best all-around TE from this draft class, able to play inline to block and line up out wide or in the slot. Flacco should have Hurst in the top 15 conversation at the position, which doesn’t happen often for rookies.
Another rookie to discuss is Andrews. It just so happens our own Chris Tyler thought highly of him as well, ranking him the number two TE in this draft class. Andrews plays more on the outside and in the slot, not much for blocking. His 1,765 career receiving yards were among the best in the class and provides a weapon in the slot that Flacco can use to his advantage. Andrews has the ability to be a top 25 option at TE as injuries mount up and could fill in admirably for Hurst if injury were to occur.
Rookie to Watch
How awesome is it that we were witnesses to sports history in seeing the first and last pick of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft being Heisman trophy winners? Lamar Jackson is not only a different type of quarterback then Mayfield, he is also a different type of player. Jackson showed the college football world that he is an instinctual playmaker, racking up highlights we’ve really only seen in video games. Jackson won’t be the immediate starter in Baltimore, but he will get some playing time and show the NFL he is the second coming of Michael Vick. – Chris Tyler
If there is one thing we know Joe Flacco can do, it’s throw the football miles down the field. And if there is one thing we know John Brown can do, it’s get down the field as a deep threat. As long as Brown can stay healthy, he will be one of Flacco’s favorite targets because he can get down field in a hurry. Mike Wallace’s first year in Baltimore was a resurrection of his career because he could get down field and that resulted in his first 1,000 yard season in 5 years. Wallace and Brown run nearly identical 40 times at 4.33 and 4.34. Brown is 5’11 and Wallace is 6’0. Both were late third round picks. Get John Brown as a WR4 because he is injury prone but has absolutely tremendous upside to be your every week flex player. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The Ravens’ 2018 season likely won’t be defined by what occurs on the football field, but by what occurred during this year’s draft. The selections of Hurst, Jackson, Andrews, and Lasley were designed to set the offense on a new path. The jobs of Flacco, Collins, Dixon, and Crabtree are to keep it afloat and make the team contend while the young guys get ready. You know my feelings on Flacco (you’re not drafting him), but Collins, Dixon, and Allen should all be owned. Collins should be the guy early in the season, then we can reevaluate from there. Crabtree will have value but we know his ceiling. Snead should be on rosters with Brown and Lasley being wild cards. The Ravens D/ST and kicker Justin Tucker should be drafted between rounds 14 and 16 as they’re easily top options at their respective positions, no matter how insignificant I find them to be. And the Ravens playoff schedule isn’t daunting, facing the Chiefs and Bucs in Weeks 14 and 15. Championship Week isn’t great against the Chargers, but at least they’ll be able to run the ball. Collins or Dixon, whichever one of them is running the show by then, should be a target at the deadline.
Here’s some additional information I dug up while researching the Ravens:
- Fine, I’ll say one nice thing about Joe Flacco. His 75.1 adjusted completion percentage actually ranked 8th in football. Translation: he put the ball where his playmakers could make plays, they just weren’t very good playmakers.
- For someone who is considered to have one of the strongest, if not the strongest arm in the NFL, Flacco’s deep passing numbers have been in decline since 2012. He had 1,100 yards on passes 20 or more yards downfield, good for 4th in the league. In 2017, he had 478 yards, 25th in the league.
- John Brown’s speed should come in handy if Flacco can return to his former deep passing form. During his two most productive seasons (2014 and 2015), Brown had a total of 17 receptions on passes that travelled 20 or more yards downfield for 665 and 6 TDs. That works out to 39.1 yards a reception.
- Alex Collins forced 44 missed tackles in 2017 on 235 touches. Buck Allen forced 20 on 199 touches. In 2016, Kenneth Dixon forced 35 missed tackles on 115 touches.
- Justin Tucker has never missed a field goal of 29 yards or less in his entire career. I know, I’m breaking my “kickers aren’t people” rule by writing something about one. But Tucker is that dude and deserves at least a sentence of praise. Or two.
|2||9/13 (Thurs)||@ CIN|
|10||** BYE WEEK **|