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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Baltimore Ravens

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Torrey Smith is talking a big game this season, and that's something we like to hear from a player with his level of talent. He's expecting a breakout campaign, and Fantasy owners should plan to target him on Draft Day.

Smith told me at Anquan Boldin's charity event in April that his goal for 2012 is to gain at least 1,000 yards and score 10 touchdowns. He expects to improve on his productive rookie year in 2011.

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"Just being consistent," Smith said. "If I was consistent with my plays last year I would have had well over 1,000 yards. That's my goal. I just have to be more focused, become a better technician and be more consistent. Everything else will take care of itself."

Smith had 50 catches, 841 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and he's already working this offseason on improving. He wants to be a more complete receiver.

Of his seven scores last year, three came in one game (Week 3 at the Rams), and he scored in consecutive games once. His yardage was also wobbly as there was only one occasion where he had back-to-back games with at least 50 yards.

"I feel like I was able to have an OK season last year," Smith said. "That's pretty much as raw as it gets for me. I feel like I have nowhere to go but up. I'm far from a finished product. I just want to work this whole summer, try to get my technique down and go out and dominate next year."

We like Smith a lot heading into this year, and he has the chance to be a solid Fantasy contributor. His teammates agree.

Boldin told me he likes Smith's work ethic. Ray Rice said in an interview that Smith has "freakish talent" and is ready to become a star.

"For him, the sky's the limit," Boldin said. "He's one of those guys that's willing to learn and willing to get better."

Added Rice: "Now he has to just channel that talent into the fundamentals. But he's got it."

Smith should be viewed as a No. 3 Fantasy option coming into the season, but he could be a starter in all leagues if he continues to progress based on his rookie year. He should be drafted beginning in Round 5 in the majority of formats.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Joe Flacco 12
Running Backs
Ray Rice 1
Bernard Pierce ND
Anthony Allen ND
Damien Berry ND
Wide Receivers
Torrey Smith 5
Anquan Boldin 8
Jacoby Jones ND
Tandon Doss ND
Tight Ends
Ed Dickson ND
Dennis Pitta ND
Kickers/Defense
Billy Cundiff ND
Ravens DST ND
ND - not expected to get drafted

Bust ... Anquan Boldin, wide receiver
Boldin is coming off a 2011 season where he actually set a career high with 15.6 yards per catch, but Fantasy owners will tell you he looked slow and old. The reality is Boldin is not the same receiver he was with the Cardinals for a variety of reasons. For starters, he is slower and older at 31 (32 in October) and entering his 10th year in the NFL. But the biggest reason for his decline in stats is his role has changed on a run-based team. He plays inside more with Baltimore than he did with Arizona, and he's not used as much in the red zone. Joe Flacco also isn't close to the quarterback Kurt Warner was, and Boldin's production will continue to decline this year. The addition of Jacoby Jones will force Boldin to play more in the slot, and he will also lose targets to tight end Ed Dickson over the middle. Based on his role in the offense, Boldin is still worth drafting as a No. 3 receiver with a mid-round pick. But if you think Boldin can still be a viable starter for you in the majority of leagues then you'll be sorry.

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Late-round flier ... Ed Dickson, tight end
I'm not big on telling Fantasy owners to draft two tight ends in the majority of standard leagues, but if you're so inclined then take a flier on Dickson. He will continue to share playing time with Dennis Pitta, and Boldin will take away targets over the middle. But Dickson had a productive year in 2011 with 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns. He closed the season with two touchdowns in his final three games, and he finished just 15 Fantasy points outside the Top 12 tight ends in standard formats. If he can increase his production slightly in his third year then he could be a steal with a late-round pick. Remember, tight ends tend to surprise us on a yearly basis, and Dickson could be among the group of potential breakout options with Jermaine Gresham, Jared Cook and Jacob Tamme. He's definitely at the tail end of that group, but Dickson could end up as a quality target for Flacco this season.

Keeper-league target ... Bernard Pierce, running back
The Ravens are hopeful there won't be a problem with Rice's contract situation heading into training camp, but if he's a holdout then the No. 2 running back in Baltimore will be a popular player for Fantasy owners. The Ravens have three players competing for the job in Pierce, Anthony Allen and Damien Berry. We expect Pierce to win the role, and he is worth drafting as a handcuff option to Rice. In deep keeper leagues, Fantasy owners should take a flier on Pierce. He played well for Temple and finished his career ranked second in rushing yards (3,570) despite playing only three seasons. The 6-foot, 218-pounder scored 53 career touchdowns, including 21 as a senior, when he finished with 1,481 yards on the ground. Baltimore drafted Pierce in Round 3 of the NFL Draft, and he could be the backup to Rice for several years depending on what happens with Rice's contract.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
CIN @PHI NE CLE @KC DAL @HOU bye @CLE OAK @PIT @SD PIT @WAS DEN NYG @CIN
The Ravens will have their hands full in their first three games against the Bengals, Eagles and Patriots. A saving grace is that two of those games are at home, along with a matchup vs. the Browns in Week 4. They'll face a lot of potent offenses, actually, and that includes both Manning brothers in consecutive weeks starting in Week 15. Maybe the Ravens DST won't be quite as effective as we're used to, especially with Terrell Suggs (Achilles' tendon) out. And with the passing offense in mind, the schedule is mostly good. Fact is, if the Ravens are in a bunch of high-scoring games, they'll need more than Rice to compete. They also take on the Steelers twice in three weeks, which is odd.

Training camp topics

The Ravens have three major talking points worth monitoring during training camp which will have an impact on Draft Day. None is bigger than Rice, who hopefully will play out the season under the franchise tag or sign a long-term deal. We hope Rice does not hold out because he is a Top 3 overall selection in the majority of leagues. A lengthy holdout could ruin his value (see Chris Johnson circa 2011).

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Ray Rice 291 carries, 76 catches
Ricky Williams 108 carries, 13 catches
Anquan Boldin 57 catches
Torrey Smith 50 catches, 4 carries
Ed Dickson 54 catches

This is also a potential contract year for Flacco, and we want to see if he's ready to have a big season. For years, Fantasy owners have been cautiously optimistic about Flacco having a breakout season. And for years, owners have been disappointed. Flacco has been decidedly mediocre in his four seasons in Baltimore, never topping 3,622 passing yards or 25 touchdowns in a single year.

Flacco has the talent and weapons to succeed, but he has yet to put it all together. If he is playing for a new contract that could be the extra motivation he needs. We consider him a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback worth a late-round pick, but he could end up as a steal on Draft Day if this is his breakout campaign.

On defense, the Ravens lost a huge contributor when standout pass rusher Suggs suffered a torn Achilles' tendon in May. Replacing his 25 sacks over the past two years is impossible, but the Ravens are hopeful rookie Courtney Upshaw can help fill the role. Upshaw could be a great late-round flier in all IDP leagues.

Injury update

Smith (hernia; probable for the start of training camp) ... Suggs (Achilles' tendon; out for year)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
IK Enemkpali dealing with plantar fascia injury
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:32 pm ET) Jets linebacker IK Enemkpali is suffering from an injury to the plantar fascia in one of his feet, NJ.com reports.

"Rest is a big part of it," Enemkpali said. "Right now, I'm just leaving it in the hands of the training room staff to see when I can get back on the field."

Enemkpali added that the injury has bothered him off and on throughout his career. He's out indefinitely.


Plenty of question marks for Kenny Stills
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:24 pm ET) Saints second-year wide receiver Kenny Stills, who suffered a quad injury on his first day of camp and played in just one preseason game (and only briefly) as a result, has a chance to solidify his role in the passing game Week 1 at Atlanta, but only if he's able to take the field.

The Falcons ranked 21st against the pass last season, allowing 243.6 yards per game, and gave up the eighth-most Fantasy points to wide receivers. Stills didn't play a major role in the Saints' two games against them last year but made his presence known in the first, hauling in a 67-yard pass.

With Lance Moore and Darren Sproles out of the picture, Stills figures to get more targets going forward, but if his quad continues to plague him, rookie Brandin Cook could cut into those targets. He's already considered the preferred Fantasy option of the two based on his preseason performance.

With his exact role in question entering the new season, you'll probably want to sit Stills in Fantasy even if he's healthy enough to play.


Brandon Marshall likely to continue TD streak in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:24 pm ET) Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall put a cap on his 2013 season by scoring touchdowns in each of his last three games. On Sunday against the Bills, he's primed to extend that TD streak to four games.

Marshall is less of a big play threat than fellow starter Alshon Jeffery, but he does plenty of damage in his own right. Half of his 12 touchdowns last season were from within six yards of the end zone. Nine of his touchdowns came on passes from starter Jay Cutler. If the Bears can get to the red zone repeatedly Sunday -- and they can -- Cutler should hook up with Marshall for at least one score.

Marshall had double-digit targets 11 times last season, failing to reach eight targets only once all season. The space should be there over the middle against a depleted Buffalo linebacker corps and a secondary without Jairus Byrd. Marshall snagged half of his 100 receptions in the middle of the field within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. Look for him to exploit that same part of the field Sunday en route to a big Fantasy day.


Brandin Cooks has ideal matchup to begin career
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:11 pm ET) Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who climbed the Fantasy rankings with a strong preseason performance in which he caught nine passes for 101 yards and a touchdown, couldn't ask for a better matchup to begin his career than a visit to Atlanta in Week 1. The Falcons ranked 21st against the pass last season, allowing 243.6 yards per game.

But that doesn't quite capture the full extent of their struggles. They allowed the second-highest passer rating and the fourth-most passing touchdowns. They also surrendered the eight-most Fantasy points to wide receivers.

Cooks is listed behind both Marques Colston and Kenny Stills on the depth chart, but the Saints have said they'll use him in a variety of roles, looking to capitalize on his big-play potential both underneath (filling the Darren Sproles void) and down the field.

Banking on them doing it right out of the gate is risky, which is why neither Jamey Eisenberg nor Dave Richard ranks Cook among the top 30 wide receivers this week, but if you're in the gambling sort of mood, the matchup favors him.


Report: Wes Welker suspended four games for amphetamines
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker has been suspended four games by the league for use of amphentamines, ESPN reports.

Welker is currently recovering from a concussion and appeared to be on track to play in Week 1. However, an appeal filed by Welker has been denied by the league, leaving him ineligible for Denver's first four games. Welker will be eligible to return Week 6 against the Jets.


Healthier Marques Colston could start big
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(6:58 pm ET) Saints wide receiver Marques Colston, who has spoken repeatedly this preseason about how much better he feels after battling a foot injury the last couple years, has the perfect opportunity to show it Week 1 at Atlanta.

Not only did the Falcons rank 21st against the pass last year, allowing 243.6 yards per game, but they gave up the eighth-most Fantasy points to a wide receiver. Though they've made some changes to their defense since then, most notably switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, their starting cornerback tandem of Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford remains unchanged.

Colston caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown in his first game against the Falcons last year. He wasn't as productive in the second, catching four passes for 40 yards, and that'll happen to him from time to time on an offense that likes to spread the ball around. But the matchup clearly works in his favor this week, which is why CBSSports.com Fantasy Football analyst Jamey Eisenberg ranks him 20th at wide receiver for the week.


Jay Cutler a prime candidate for multiple TDs in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:55 pm ET) Bears quarterback Jay Cutler took to the team's new offensive system swimmingly in 2013, riding a strong supporting cast that included running back Matt Forte and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall to an outstanding first six weeks. In his first six games, Cutler completed nearly 66 percent of his passes while averaging about 272 yards, two touchdowns and one interception per game.

An injury cut Cutler's seventh game short, and he found it difficult to get back to 100 percent at any point over the remainder of the season before finally giving way to Josh McCown. However, back to full strength for the start of 2014, Cutler is a prime candidate to match his first-six-game averages from last season in Week 1 against the Bills.

The Bills still maintain an excellent stable of pass rushers, but the back seven has lost players to injury and free agency, and the team will try to restock from within. Linebackers Kiko Alonso (out for year) and Nigel Bradham (suspended for Week 1) won't play Sunday, and safety projects to be an area of concern after Jairus Byrd left in free agency. Cutler should find plenty of room in the middle of the field all day. Expect plenty of first downs as the Bears QB piles up 300-plus yards and multiple TDs in Week 1.


Jimmy Graham should shine right away
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(6:40 pm ET) The Saints travel to Atlanta in Week 1 to take on a Falcons team they know well.

How well? Tight end Jimmy Graham, now four years into his NFL career, has already scored seven touchdowns against them. In only one of the seven games since he became the Saints' primary tight end has he got without one, and it wasn't last year. No, he scored a touchdown in each of the Saints' two games against the Falcons, making four grabs for 45 yards in the first and five for 100 in the second.

Judging by the way the Falcons defended the pass last year, you'd wonder why he didn't score more. They allowed 31 touchdowns through he air, fourth-most in the league, and gave up the ninth-most Fantasy points to tight ends. They did switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme this offseason, but that won't have much say in Graham's production.

Chances are if you drafted him in Fantasy, you'll be starting him every week anyway, but this week is no time to get cute.


Drew Brees looks to light up Falcons
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Given the way the Falcons defended the pass last year, those numbers could have been even better. Atlanta ranked 21st against the pass, allowing 243.6 yards per game, and gave up the second-highest quarterback rating of 102.4. They surrendered the fourth-most Fantasy points to quarterbacks.

While they made some changes to their defense this offseason, switching to a 3-4 scheme and adding Dwight Lowery at free safety, neither will be enough to slow down Brees. He's a must-start every week in Fantasy, but particularly with a matchup like this one.


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(6:19 pm ET) The Browns have signed tackle Vinston Painter to the team's active roster. Painter was on the Broncos' practice squad.

 
 
 
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