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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
Report: Falcons' Dezmen Southward undergoes knee surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(8:47 pm ET) Falcons defensive backs Dezmen Southward underwent a minor-knee operation Wednesday, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Southward did not attend Tuesday's OTA and it is not known how long he'll be sidelined.


Julius Thomas trying to fit into Jaguars' offense
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(8:30 pm ET) Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas said after Wednesday's organized team activity that he intends to make it work with quarterback Blake Bortles, reports The Florida Times-Union.

"There is no 'Here's me coming in, and Blake's going to get on my page.' I'm going to be on Blake's page," Thomas said. "Whatever he expects, that's what I am going to do. He's the quarterback. He's the one in control of that huddle, and I like catching passes so I will make sure I do exactly what he wants."

With Thomas entering his first season with the Jaguars, he said it will take time to develop a rapport with Bortles.

"I think that getting good chemistry with a quarterback probably takes a couple of thousand passes," Thomas said.


Cowboys RB Darren McFadden not concerned with playing time
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(7:38 pm ET) With the Cowboys just beginning their organized team activities this week, running back Darren McFadden said he just wants to concentrate on becoming familiar with the team, reports the team's official website.

"For me, I'm just going out there grinding," he said. "However the coaches put me out there – whether it's first team or second team. When it comes time for them to make a decision, it's totally up to them. I'm just trying to get that playbook down and take advantage of this opportunity."

McFadden is competing with Joseph Randle to be the first-team running back, and he said he just wants to work hard and not worry about how many repetitions he's receiving with the first team.

"Once you've been in a place so long like Oakland, you can get set in your ways," McFadden said Wednesday, after his second OTA practice with the Cowboys. "Coming out here and being around guys that work so hard, it just brings out the best in you. It's something I look forward to."


Chiefs' Mike Catapano on his health: I feel better than ever
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(6:41 pm ET) After missing the entire 2014 season with a gastrointestinal virus, Chiefs defensive end Mike Catapano was able to participate in the team's OTA on Wednesday, reports The Kansas City Star.

"Every time I step on the field now it's with purpose and with extra vigor that I never really had," Catapano said. "It feels great. I feel better than ever."

Catapano played in 15 games during his rookie season in 2013 and he totaled four tackles and one sack. He said he's ready to surpass that in 2015.

"I'm ready to show that I offer a lot to this team. I'm ready to step up in big situations and starting situations," Catapano said. "I just want to keep getting better every day… and play to the best of my abilities."


Broncos' Manning, Sanders keeping up with Thomas during holdout
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:05 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is holding out of offseason workouts while he continues to negotiate a long-term deal with the team, but teammates Emmanuel Sanders and Peyton Manning have been keeping up with the star receiver, the Denver Post reports.

"One thing a lot of people don’t realize is when you’re playing on a one-year deal, there’s a lot of things going through your head," Sanders said. "As much as you guys want to say, ‘Don’t think about it,' of course it’s going to cross your mind because you’re talking about a lot of money at stake. When you’re playing these one-year deals, it’s a lot of stress on you. No matter how much you don’t want it to be, it’s going to happen. We’re all human."

Manning would like to have Thomas in workouts but understands the business aspects of his decision.

"I keep up with Demaryius. He’s my buddy," Manning said. "They got that business side of it to work out, but he’s been a great teammate to me, been a great friend to me since I’ve been here in Denver, so I keep up with him. Obviously want him to get back here as soon as possible, but we want what’s best for him, and he certainly deserves what’s best for him."

Thomas has started 16 games for three straight season, topping 90 receptions, 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in each.


Raiders sign Horace Miller, Milton Williams
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(5:30 pm ET) The Raiders have signed linebacker Horace Miller and wide receiver Milton Williams, the team announced on Wednesday.

Miller was waived by the Panthers earlier this offseason after spending one week on the active roster but seeing no playing time. Williams originally signed with the Raiders earlier this month before being waived a few days later.


Titans project DE DaQuan Jones as starter
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) Titans defensive end DaQuan Jones started the final game of his rookie season against the Colts and is on track to open the 2015 season in the same role, The Tennessean reports.

"He's a starter at end, it's what we project," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "In the last game against Indianapolis, Jones played really well."

A fourth-round pick out of Penn State, Jones finished his rookie season with 13 tackles and one sack, with the sack and more than half of his tackles coming in his lone start at the end of the year.


Browns waive Nick McDonald
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:13 pm ET) The Browns waived offensive lineman Nick McDonald with an injury designation (knee), the team announced on Wednesday.

McDonald made seven starts at center last season after spending the first six weeks of the season on the reserve/non-football injury list with a wrist issue.


Titans DT Sammie Lee Hill diagnosed with knee sprain
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5:08 pm ET) Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill was diagnosed with a knee sprain, reports The Tennessean.

Hill the sustained the injury Tuesday, but he won't require surgery.


Texans LB Brian Cushing on his health: Best I've felt in a while
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:53 pm ET) Texans linebacker Brian Cushing participated in Wednesday's OTA and he said he hasn't been this healthy in a long time, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"I'm the best physically I've been in a while," he said.

During the offseason, Cushing had surgery on his broken right wrist as well as arthroscopic procedures on his left knee and left ankle. He was able to play in 14 games in 2014 after only appearing in 13 games during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.


 
 
 
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