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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Baltimore Ravens

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Last year was the first time in John Harbaugh's six seasons as Ravens head coach that he did not lead his team to the playoffs. Moves were made this offseason to keep that from happening again, but it could be tough to pull off.

One of the biggest disappointments from 2013 was the play of Ray Rice. Overweight and hurting from a hip injury, Rice failed to get over 1,000 total yards for the first time since he was a rookie. Playing behind a beat up and beleaguered offensive line didn't help -- neither he nor teammate Bernard Pierce could get going at all. That forced Joe Flacco to make plays, which he didn't always do.

The Ravens didn't have the choice to stick to their offensive plan once Jim Caldwell left his post as the offensive coordinator to become the Lions' head coach. So Harbaugh hired Gary Kubiak, the former Texans head coach, to bring in his West Coast offensive scheme and zone-run game that proved to be successful in the past. The Ravens also made a splash signing veteran receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels. Both additions bring a lot of experience to the offense as they try to move toward another playoff run.

But so much of the Baltimore offense will revolve around Rice. Though he has reportedly lost 15 pounds and has healed up, Rice got into hot water this offseason when he was arrested for allegedly hitting his wife inside an Atlantic City casino. The charge might get dropped after he and his wife entered an intervention program, but the NFL is expected to hand down a suspension. Without Rice, the Ravens just don't have the same kind of run game.

Expect Flacco to continue being a huge point of emphasis for the Ravens, which isn't as bad of a thing as last season considering the additions to the offense (a healthy Dennis Pitta helps a bunch, too). The defense also could be in line for a better year even after ranking in the Top 12 against the run and the pass, in part because of first-round pick C.J. Mosley anchoring the middle of the unit.

Top 24 receiver ... Torrey Smith

Some would argue Smith's breakout campaign came in 2013, but there's a chance he posts better Fantasy point production for the third consecutive time. This is because of the offense being installed, one in which the No. 1 receiver typically gets a slew of targets. Smith needs those because he's never had a high catch rate (below 50 percent each of the last two seasons) but might find the work easier because he might not get thrown at deep as often. Playing on the same field as Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith should help ease coverage a little bit, too. He's an acceptable No. 2 receiver to end up with.

Bounce-back coming ... Dennis Pitta

Same story as Smith -- we already know Pitta's name and what he can do, but there's potential for a career year. How often in Houston did we see tight ends get involved, particularly near the goal line? Over the last three seasons, tight ends in Kubiak's offense caught 31 of 61 possible passing touchdowns (50.8 pct.). Pitta won't be the only guy to end up spiking the ball on the turf because Owen Daniels will play a bunch, but after proving to be Flacco's security blanket down the stretch in 2012 and again late in 2013, he's considered a candidate to top the 61 catches for 669 yards and seven scores he had in '12. Dial up Pitta as a Top 10 tight end with a pick in Round 7 or 8, probably soon after Jason Witten gets taken.

Overrated ... Ravens DST

2013 Touches Leaders
786 total touches
Ray Rice 272 (214 car., 58 rec.) 34.6%
Bernard Pierce 172 (152 car., 20 rec.) 21.9%
Torrey Smith 65 rec. 8.3%
Marlon Brown 50 (49 rec., 1 car.) 6.4%
All others 227 28.9%

A lot of Fantasy owners will take the Ravens DST because the unit has a repuation. Is perception reality? Last year, this team added pass rusher Elvis Dumervil and did finish as a Top 12 unit against the run and the pass, but still rated poorly for Fantasy, finishing tied for 14th with two other DSTs. Worse yet, they were inconsistent, posting 13-plus Fantasy points just four times in 16 games. On the schedule this season: Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and of course two games each with the improved Bengals and Steelers offenses, including both in the first two weeks of the year. Playmakers Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty, Daryl Smith and Dumervil all on the wrong side of 30, so there's a chance this defense could struggle to produce big Fantasy totals against some tough opponents.

Schedule analysis

The Ravens open the year playing the Bengals and Steelers at home over a five-day span. That's right, they landed the first Thursday Night Football game (post-Week 1) of the season. They also caught a brutal stretch where they play four road games in five weeks with a homer against the Falcons in the middle (at Indy, at Tampa Bay, vs. Atlanta, at Cincy, at Pittsburgh). Things do open up in the second half of the season, especially the last four weeks at Miami, vs, Jacksonville, at Houston and vs. Cleveland in Week 17. There aren't a lot of stingy run defenses expected along the way -- the Steelers shouldn't be dominant nor should the Bengals or Texans -- but there aren't a lot of layups on the slate either.

Training camp battles

Who's the backup running back? It would only make sense that Bernard Pierce reclaims his spot as the backup rusher to Ray Rice. Veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will try to put some pressure on Pierce, but unless the team finds another back, expect Pierce to win the job by default. And that means he could begin the year as the team's starter if Rice is suspended.

Is Marlon Brown history? The receiver was a bright spot for the Ravens last year, catching 49 of 81 targets for 524 yards and seven touchdowns. The addition of Steve Smith definitely pushes Brown off the field in two-receiver sets and Jacoby Jones will have a strong case to serve as the third receiver. Jones not only re-upped with the Ravens this offseason, he's reuniting with Kubiak, who was his head coach in Houston. He knows what will be asked of him while Brown will have to adjust to the new system. It'll take an injury to someone else for Brown to come anywhere close to his rookie year numbers.

How much playing time will Owen Daniels earn, and will it impact Dennis Pitta? We know that tight ends are a big part of Kubiak's offense, and we know that Daniels has spent most of his career playing in that offense. But he's 31 years old and has missed chunks of two of his last four seasons (and at least one game every season). If he's a supplemental player then Fantasy owners know to pass on him, but even if he's cast as such, will it mean targets taken away from Pitta? Unfortunately, we might not get our answer until the season starts and we see how often the Ravens use two-tight end formations. It might be frequently.

Bold prediction

Any investment in the Ravens run game on Draft Day will be a headache. It is believed that Rice will serve a suspension for his actions in a domestic violence incident, which will cost him the very start of the season. Then when he comes back there won't be any guarantee that he'll be as effective as he was in 2012 or earlier. A similar guarantee can be said for the offensive line, which underwent minimal changes personnel-wise but had to learn a new blocking system. That's a strike against anyone running the ball for Baltimore.

There isn't a good reason to target Rice with a Top 50 pick on Draft Day. Maybe that changes if he impresses in training camp and the preseason. And maybe it'll change if there isn't a suspension after all. But by selecting Rice, a Fantasy owner has to make a commitment to the Ravens run game. It means having to spend a late pick on his backup, Bernard Pierce, who himself wasn't effective last year either and is coming off of shoulder surgery. And it might turn out that rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro ends up having a decent role in the offense. Are you going to spend a roster spot on him and Pierce if you draft Rice?! What a mess. C.J. Spiller, Toby Gerhart and Ben Tate will all be better Fantasy choices than Rice on Draft Day.

Injury report: Bernard Pierce (shoulder), questionable for start of training camp. ... Kelechi Osemele (back), probable for start of training camp. ... Michael Campanaro (hamstring), probable for start of training camp. ... Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), probable for start of training camp.

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Player News
Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:28 pm ET) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:10 pm ET) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:44 pm ET) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:42 pm ET) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:30 pm ET) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:00 pm ET) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


Report: Texans interested in DT Antonio Smith
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:04 pm ET) The Texans are interested in signing defensive tackle Antonio Smith, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The team is in discussions about bringing back Smith.

Smith, who played for the Texans for five seasons, was released by the Raiders on Tuesday. The 33-year-old has started at least 15 games in each of the last six seasons. Over his 10-year career, he has racked up 302 total tackles, 44.5 sacks, eight passes defensed and 11 forced fumbles.


Report: Chargers sign G Michael Huey, waive Baca, Alecxih
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) The Chargers have signed guard Michael Huey of the Arena Football League, according to the UT San Diego. The team also waived offensive lineman Jeff Baca and defensive lineman Chas Alecxih.

Huey is a three-time All-AFL member, playing for the Arizona Rattlers. He spent three weeks with the Chargers during the 2011 preseason. The Rattlers won the league championship in each year that Huey was there.

Baca, 25, was brought in as insurance as an interior offensive lineman last season after the Chargers went through five starting centers.

Alecxih, twice a member of the team's practice squad, did not see any regular season action in 2014. 

 


Report: RB Jacquizz Rodgers signs with Bears
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:03 pm ET) After visiting wth the Bears on Tuesday, running back Jacquizz Rodgers has signed a one-year contract with the team, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport.

Rodgers, formerly with the Falcons for four seasons, has totaled 1,116 yards rushing, 1,104 yards receiving and 10 total totuchdowns in his career. 


 
 
 
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