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Offseason Primers: Baltimore Ravens

Senior Fantasy Writer
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A change in offensive coordinators combined with some incredible passes from Joe Flacco propelled the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2012.

A change in salary cap space because of Flacco's NFL-record extension meant changes across the roster. Along with five defensive starters leaving the team, the Ravens sent sure-handed receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers via trade in a move that saved some of their cap space. It's tough decisions like this that could keep the Ravens from being as successful in 2013.

The offense has some questions at receiver but none at running back, where Ray Rice is about as sure as things can be. Totaling over 1,500 yards for the fourth straight year and collecting 10 total touchdowns for the second straight season, Rice delivered over 100 total yards eight times and totaled 10-plus Fantasy points in standard leagues 11 times in the 15 games he legitimately played in. Down the stretch in 2012 we did see Bernard Pierce take some carries away from Rice, including 21 carries in the AFC title game and Super Bowl XLVII combined. Perhaps that was done to ease Rice's workload, a smart move considering he put on 318 total touches in the regular season and another 92 in the postseason.

2012 Touches Leaders
761 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Ray Rice 318 (257 car., 61 rec.) 41.8%
Bernard Pierce 115 (108 car., 7 rec.) 15.1%
Anquan Boldin 66 (65 rec., 1 car.) 8.7%
Dennis Pitta 61 rec. 8.0%
Torrey Smith 52 (49 rec., 3 car.) 6.8%
Jacoby Jones 31 (30 rec., 1 car.) 4.1%
All Others 118 15.5%

Could the Rice-Pierce dynamic bleed into 2013? Perhaps, though with Rice still continuing to be an effective weapon we doubt it will hurt his production much. In fact, if the Ravens determine that their passing attack isn't what it was when they won the title last year, we could see them lean on both backs more. Remember, they're down a viable starting receiver and finding a player to step up in place of Boldin, who led the team with 112 targets last year and has been the leading receiver the past three years, is vital if they want to keep averaging 24.9 points per game like they did last regular season. Rice is a nice Top 10 pick, though he'll have to fight the dreaded Super Bowl hangover to reach big numbers again. The smart move would then be to spend a Round 9 pick on Bernard Pierce as a handcuff to Rice in case he struggles.

But the onus of this team will fall on Flacco, who is now the highest-paid player in league history. With Ray Lewis retiring, the time has come for Flacco to lead this team. Plus, the Ravens tend to find ways to stay competitive -- they haven't had a losing season since John Harbaugh and Flacco came to town in 2008 -- but it could take some creative manuevering from play caller Jim Caldwell for them to stay elite. In the past we've been concerned with Caldwell's work, but after what he did with Flacco last season, not anymore.

As for the Ravens defense, a number of starters walked out the door, but the team diligently filled holes with the likes of Elvis Dumervil, Michael Huff, Marcus Spears and Chris Canty. That leaves fewer holes than anticipated, but there's still the issue of replacing Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe. But, if the Ravens are as smart as their track record suggests, they shouldn't have much of a problem there.

Torrey Smith -- Breakout

2012 Target Leaders
560 pass attempts
Anquan Boldin 112 20.1%
Torrey Smith 110 19.6%
Dennis Pitta 93 16.6%
Ray Rice 84 15.0%
Jacoby Jones 54 9.6%
All Others 107 19.1%

We're turning to Smith as a breakout candidate for the second season in a row, primarily because of the departure of Anquan Boldin along with the receiver maturing enough in his second season to translate into a gamebreaker in his third. His stats were consistent from 2011 to 2012 -- he scored one more touchdown and had 14 more yards receiving on one fewer catch. What wasn't consistent was how he delivered those stats; he had six games with 10 or more Fantasy points and nine with six Fantasy points or less. That boom-or-bust nature happened in part because of a lack of consistent targets (he had just 110) and a lack of consistent receiving skills (he caught just 44.5 pct. of those targets). But who else can step up in this offense? Joe Flacco needs Smith to have a big year for the Ravens to be effective. Getting him in Round 7 or Round 8 as a No. 3 receiver should pay off.

Jacoby Jones -- Bust

The Ravens figure to lean on their postseason hero a little more in 2013. You can ask the Texans how that worked out for them when they gave Jones an opportunity. Jones has never had more than even 600 yards receiving in a year and only once caught six touchdowns in a campaign (he had one regular-season receiving touchdown last year before hauling in two in the postseason). So while he's got some great speed and has gained some notoriety with his dancing skills, he's really never been a great option for Fantasy play. Even with a boost in playing time there's just too much risk in drafting Jones. If he proves us wrong at least you know to pick him up early off the waiver wire.

Joe Flacco -- Value proposition

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Joe Flacco 110-120 overall
Ray Rice 6-10 overall
Torrey Smith 85-95 overall
Jacoby Jones Undrafted
Dennis Pitta 90-100 overall
Justin Tucker Late-round pick
Ravens DST Final-round pick

You'd think after winning a Super Bowl that Flacco would get some respect in Fantasy circles, but it's not really happening. Flacco watched as young guys with fast legs racked up more Fantasy points last year and the mob mentality of following the hot players will push those names ahead of Flacco in drafts. But owners could pull off a sweet double dip and get one of those young runners and Flacco on Draft Day. After all, Flacco finished last season with 20 or more Fantasy points in seven of eight games including the postseason -- all games with new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. And if you remove his meaningless Week 17 game, Flacco averaged a precise 18.0 Fantasy points per game in the regular season. If you figure Flacco's floor is that 18-point average, he's a pretty safe bet with a pick in Round 9 or 10 as a backup quarterback and quasi-insurance policy if you take a young gun with an early- to middle-round pick.

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

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Player News
Rams RB Trey Watts suspended four games
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:08 pm ET) Rams running back Trey Watts has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, according to profootballtalk.com.

Watts, who made the team in 2014 as an undrafted free agent, played in 14 games last season and rushed for 30 yards on seven carries.

Watts is eligible to return for Week 5 against the Packers.


Falcons LB Prince Shembo charged with cruelty to animals
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(3:57 pm ET) Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo is being accused of killing his ex-girlfriend's dog and has been charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Police said Denicia Williams, Shembo's ex-girlfriend, reported on April 19 that Shembo had killed her Yorkie.

Williams took the dog to Shembo's residence and left them unattended at some point. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive.

Shembo recorded 59 tackles in 16 games for the Falcons last season.


Seahawks' Kam Chancellor: 'This is the strongest offseason I've had'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:56 pm ET) Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor feels good. He should, he's finally healthy.

Chancellor, who has become accustomed to rehabbing nagging injuries during the offseason, is practicing with the team during organized team activities for the first time in a while, per The News Tribune.

“I feel great. Back to football form. Feel fast. Feel strong. I just feel good out there," Chancellor said. "I think this is the strongest offseason I’ve had since I’ve been in the league. I’ve been actually able to train in the offseason instead of having surgeries.”

Chancellor recorded 78 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in 14 games last season.


Cardinals RB coach: David Johnson 'reminds me a lot of Matt Forte'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:44 pm ET) Cardinals rookie runningback David Johnson received a huge compliment from his position coach, per nfl.com.

Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said the third-round pick reminds him of a Pro Bowl running back.

"He reminds me a lot of Matt Forte," Mitchell said. "You can put him outside and use him as a receiver and he's a good runner."

Mitchell sees the comparison between the two when it comes to Johnson's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, something Forte has excelled at throughout his career.

"He has excellent hands and he's a bigger target to throw the ball to," Mitchell said. "He's going to be a big piece of the puzzle before this season is said and done."

Johnson rushed for 1,553 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at Northern Iowa last year.


Patriots Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler absent at OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:30 pm ET) Patriots cornerback and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was noticeably absent from organized team activities on Friday, per nesn.com. It's unclear why Butler was not at practice.

Butler recorded 15 tackles in 11 games last season, but most noticeably came up with a game-clinching interception in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIX.


Cowboys excited and cautious with return of LB Sean Lee
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:22 pm ET) Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee tore his ACL during organized team activities last year. This year, he has been limited to individual drills during non-padded parctices, per The Dallas Morning News.

Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said the team is happy to have Lee back but that they will pace him along slowly.

"He's a ball of energy and excitement and that represents who we are," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He's moving well. We're just being smart as we get him ready to go. But he's got a lot of good quality work in."


Chiefs' Jeremy Maclin getting work in as a punt returner
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:59 pm ET) Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was the Chiefs' prized free-agent pickup this offseason, which makes it that much more intriguing that he lined up to return punts during practice on Thursday, per ESPN.com.

Maclin, who signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Chiefs, was a premier punt returner in college and played the role sparingly -- with little success -- with the Eagles.

Coach Andy Reid said the team is preparing Maclin just in case he's needed to return punts or kicks because of injuries.

We just want to make sure he is ready,’’ Reid said. “You have limited numbers that you can dress on game day, so you don’t know what rotation you are going to have there with the receivers and returners. So it gives you an opportunity to keep him fresh. We don’t work him every day like the other guys. It’s kind of an every other day deal, so just to make sure that he’s okay and can still do that, but he’s not going to be the primary guy doing it right now.”


Eagles CB Byron Maxwell guarantees trip to Super Bowl 50
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:40 pm ET) Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell knows what it takes to make a Super Bowl run, he's appeared in two straight as a key member of the vaunted Seahawks defense.

Now, Maxwell is confident the Eagles will make a run to the big game and he will make his third consecutive appearance, per NFL.com.

"Because I've been there before," Maxwell said. "Knowing what it's like if we go that far. Because we're gonna go that far this year, meaning the playoffs and the Super Bowl. We're gonna go that far. Hopefully that experience I already had, I can help them."

The Eagles haven't made a Super Bowl since their 24-21 loss to the Patriots in 2004, but Maxwell didn't backtrack with his comments.

"You can take that as a guarantee," he said. "That's just me believing in my team and the product we're going to put out there on the field. I really do believe that. I have no choice but to think that way."

Maxwell, who signed a six-year, $60 million deal with the Eagles this offseason, recorded 39 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games last season.


Report: QB Matt Simms asked for release from Jets
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:35 pm ET) Third-year quarterback Matt Simms asked for his release from the Jets on Thursday, a source close to the situation told The Record.

Simms, who had no comment when reached, apparently saw little future with that team when it selected Bryce Petty in the draft. He wanted to test the free agent market before mandatory minicamps began in June. If he clears waivers, he can sign with any team.

The 26-year-old Simms has played in just four career games with a poor 48.7 completion rate.


Eagles' Sanchez on QB competition: 'Everybody wants to be the starter'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:24 pm ET) The Eagles have a quarterback competition on their hands, and Mark Sanchez is making it clear he wants to be the starter, per NFL.com.

"Everybody wants to be the starter and I'm no different," Sanchez said.

Coach Chip Kelly has said that Sanchez and Sam Bradford will compete for the starting spot and that the best player will be behind center for the start of the season.

“Everybody’s in competition,” Kelly said, per ESPN.com, “and the best players play.”

Sanchez played in nine games for the Eagles last season, passing for 2,418 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Bradford missed all of last season due to an ACL tear.


 
 
 
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