After making the postseason in consecutive years under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens appear to be making their run at the Lombardi trophy in 2010.
The team finally upgraded its receiving corps with the additions of Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth and also added some youth to their defensive front via the draft with hefty nose tackle Terrence Cody and pass-rushing specialist Sergio Kindle. They even added ex-Bengals kicker Shayne Graham in an attempt to add competition and performance to their kicking game.
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But most importantly, the Ravens didn't lose much talent-wise from their team during the offseason. There was discussion that safety Ed Reed would retire from issues stemming from a hip injury, but he's back for 2010. The Ravens also held on to the likes of offensive tackle Jared Gaither and running back Willis McGahee, even though they might have been able to trade them for draft picks.
Football fans and Fantasy owners alike are already familiar with the Ravens' stiff defense, but this could be the season where their offense begins to make more noise. Because of the smashing sophomore season from running back Ray Rice and the unlimited potential of quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens are one of the trendy picks heading into the 2010 season.
Late-round flier ... Donte Stallworth, WR
Stallworth is the classic veteran playing with something to prove. After being suspended for all of last season, Stallworth is grateful for a chance to play ball again. And unlike previous stints in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Cleveland, Stallworth won't be relied upon to be the primary receiver. Because the Ravens traded for Boldin and hung on to veteran Derrick Mason, the expectation is that Stallworth will work in the slot and perform as the Ravens' best deep-ball option in years. Plus, with Boldin and Mason not locks for 16 games, there's always the chance Stallworth gets a chance at a bigger opportunity. Ultimately he won't be very consistent, but he'll have a few weeks during the season where he'll catch a long touchdown pass. He's one-week replacement material, but a good one, so drafting him with a late-round pick isn't a bad move at all.
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Breakout ... Joe Flacco, QB
This only makes sense: With the additions the Ravens have made on offense with no subtractions, there's nothing but high expectations for Flacco in 2010. Remember the strong start he had last season? Now factor in some stability among his receiving corps and you've got some lofty expectations for the third-year passer. Flacco has continued to progress this offseason, becoming more vocal in the huddle and spending extra time working with his receivers. The hope is that it all pays off in wins for the Ravens and loads of points for his Fantasy owners. We think Flacco is good enough to draft as a starter in Fantasy thanks to his 4,000-yard and 25-touchdown potential.
Bust ... Willis McGahee, RB
McGahee took us on a wild ride last season, busting out the gates with seven total touchdowns in four games and finishing the season with three touchdowns in a win at Oakland. But in between those games he accounted for just four touchdowns over 11 contests, and his yardage total only got inflated in that Week 17 romp at the Raiders (when the Ravens were in control from the get-go and opted to rest some starters). Many owners will draft McGahee expecting him to be a touchdown savior again in 2010, but with Rice established in his role with the Ravens and the offense expected to pass more than in 2009, McGahee might be drawing the short stick more often than not. He's really best served as an insurance policy for those owners who draft Rice with a first-round pick.
It's rough early for the Ravens -- enough to scare people out of drafting Ray Rice with anything higher than the fourth or fifth overall pick -- but once they get toward the middle of their season they should flourish. We especially like their closing schedule, which should not only translate into a postseason push for them but good Fantasy stats for owners.
Training camp topics
Everything seems in place for the Ravens to be a power in the AFC heading into the season, so there aren't many significant issues facing the team. There could still be an adjustment period for Anquan Boldin learning the nuances of the Ravens' offense, but otherwise their team's Fantasy stars are entrenched on the depth chart so long as they're healthy.
There are some minor hot topics that need to be sorted out, however. Perhaps the most intriguing to Fantasy owners is who the Ravens will tab as their kicker for the season as incumbent Billy Cundiff received competition for the job in the form of ex-Bengals booter Shayne Graham in June. Whoever wins the gig should be of interest to Fantasy owners as a sleeper -- the Ravens attempted 30 field goals and 47 extra points last season, and their offense is more fired up for 2010. Our hunch is that Graham takes the job.
It's also worth noting that wide receiver Derrick Mason came back after contemplating changing teams or retirement earlier this offseason. Mason's return hints that he's back to win a ring, not to notch his 10th 1,000-yard season in 11 years. With Boldin and Stallworth aboard, Mason surely won't act as the team's primary receiver and should most definitely see a decline in production compared to what he's accomplished over his career in Baltimore. Mason is still a crafty receiver with great hands, and Flacco would be wrong to completely forget about him, but modest totals are likely now that the offense has added additional talent.
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