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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
Seahawks' Kam Chancellor participates in Saturday walkthrough
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:11 pm ET) Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor injured his knee late in Friday's practice but was well enough to participate in Saturday's walkthrough for Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.

Coach Pete Carroll indicated optimism that Chancellor, who is considered probable to play Sunday, would be cleared to participate in the Super Bowl, per the Seahawks' pool report.

"He looked pretty good today," Carroll said. "We will make sure we test him in pregame, but he remarkably looked great today, and so that’s all we have to go on."

Chancellor is one of six Seattle players listed as probable to play in Sunday's game.


Lions WR Calvin Johnson does not need offseason surgery
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson indicated Saturday that he will not need to undergo offseason surgery, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Johnson had surgery on his ankle and finger last offseason, and while he missed three games due to injury in October, he played every game from November onward despite being limited by an ankle injury in practice. The Lions wide receiver finished with 71 receptions for 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014.


Patriots upgrade center Bryan Stork to probable for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:31 pm ET) The Patriots have upgraded center Bryan Stork to probable for Sunday's Super Bowl, the team announced Saturday. 

Stork was considered questionable with a knee injury after missing the AFC Championship game and was limited in practice Friday. The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against the Seahawks Sunday.


Geno Smith hopeful Jets bring back Percy Harvin in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:48 pm ET) Jets quarterback Geno Smith knows he can't make the ultimate decision, but he wants to see Percy Harvin back in New York in 2015.

"I would love for Percy to come back," Smith said. "Obviously I can’t make that decision, but from my short time with him he’s been a great teammate. He’s obviously a dynamic player and I’d love to see what he can do in this new offense."

Harvin played eight games with the Jets in 2014, catching 29 passes for 350 yards. 

However, Harvin is due $10.5 million in base salary in 2014, and is under contract until 2018.


Eagles' Nick Foles expecting to be starter in Philadelphia next year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:06 pm ET) Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said he is expecting to be back in Philadelphia in 2015, leading the offesne.

"My expectation is to be out there and be the starting guy," Foles said, according to CSNPhilly.com. "I expect to be out there with my teammates leading them. I’ve never thought otherwise throughout this whole time. 


"I know there’s been a lot of things said, but the only thing I’m worried about is making myself the best player, the best person to help lead my team."

Foles, who threw for 2,163 yards and 13 touchdowns in an injury-shortened season, expects to be back at full strength by the time training camp rolls around.

"Completely healthy, ready to go," he said. "Just grinding away. Just can’t wait to get back out there."


Jets' Geno Smith doesn't know if he will start in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:00 pm ET) Jets quarterback Geno Smith said Saturday he is unsure of his status with the team and has not received a definitive answer from new coach Todd Bowles on whether he will be the starter in 2015, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.

Smith, who threw for 2,525 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2014, also isn't sure if the Jets will try to draft a quarterback in the first round like Jamies Winston or Marcus Mariota, but he would welcome the challenge as more competition.


Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: 'It's really (Fitzgerald's) decision'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:33 am ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters Friday he really wants to see wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald back in Arizona next season.

"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t," Arians said. "We definitely, desperately want him to stay. He knows that. It’s really his decision."

Fitzgerald has a salary cap hit of $23.6 million for 2015 and the team will work to get that number down in the offseason. Team president Michael Bidwill said this week contract talks won't start fully until after the Super Bowl.

"I’m hoping and praying every day that it does happen," Arians said. "I’ve expressed to him personally how much it means to us."

Fitzgerald has not reached 1,000 yards receiving in the past three seasons and totaled 784 in 2014 on 63 catches with two touchdowns.


Seahawks corner Byron Maxwell set to test free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:25 am ET) Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell is ready to hit the free-agent market during the upcoming offseason and feels the Super Bowl will be his last game in Seattle.

"I’m the prettiest girl at the dance right now," Maxwell said. "But yeah, it’s one of those things I’m excited about it. I would love to be here, but I’m ready to see what’s out there and see how things work out."

Maxwell, who was heavily targeted this year with the Seahawks secondary filled with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, grabbed two interceptions and defended 11 passes.

"Coming into the season I already knew teams were going to try me," Maxwell said. "But it was cool. I accept that. That’s more opportunities for me to get the rock and put my name out there."


Report: Titans S Bernard Pollard wants to be released
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:52 am ET) Titans safety Bernard Pollard has requested a release from his contract, The Tennessean reports. He is scheduled to make $3.1 million in the final season of his two-year deal in 2015.

Pollard submitted his request to general manager Ruston Webster at the end of the regular season, per the report. He is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and wants to play in 2015, but said on The Tennessean's Bernard Pollard Show earlier this month that he was unsure of his future with the Titans.

"I am not getting any younger, so I want to win, I really do. I want to win,'' Pollard said. "Looking at how things took place this year, looking at where (the Titans) need to be for next year, that is a tough, tough question, and I don't even know if they can give me the answer. I have one year on my deal, but it is going to take some time."

Pollard has been out of his walking boot for a month and is making progress in rehab. He suffered his Achilles injury in Week 5 and was placed on injured reserve.


Patriots fairly healthy heading into Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Patriots will be at nearly full strength for Sunday’s Super Bowl as the following players have been listed as probable: Tom Brady (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow), Akeem Ayers (knee), Darrelle Revis (non-injury-related) and Sealver Siliga (foot).

All except Brady were limited participants in practice Friday. The only question mark is center Bryan Stork, who is questionable with a knee injury and was limited in practice Friday.

The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against Seattle.


 
 
 
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