StrategyJuly 24, 2009

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Daily Preview: Baltimore Ravens

By Rick Jacoby

The Ravens hope Joe Flacco can get them over the top this year after having had a solid rookie campaign. Cam Cameron loves to utilize his RBs in his offensive schemes. The offense will definitely go through the backfield, as his offenses always have, but Cameron must find a way to establish some balance in the offense with no real veteran pass catchers on the team aside from Todd Heap, assuming Derrick Mason stays retired. Flacco seems to have what it takes to be a solid NFL QB so, even though they are young, we cannot underestimate the Ravens WRs, namely Mark Clayton, who will have to step up in order for the Ravens to be successful. The aging but talented defense should be a force once again.

QB: Joe Flacco, Troy Smith
RB: Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, LeRon McClain
WR: Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Kelly Washington
TE: Todd Heap, L.J. Smith
K: Matt Stover

Quarterback: Joe Flacco will need to take a big step forward this year if the Ravens are going to get where they need to go. He seems poised and has great leadership qualities. I don’t see him as an effective fantasy QB this year considering Baltimore’s smash-mouth run style and inexperience WR corps. This year he’ll be growing with his young WRs.

Running Back: With Lorenzo Neal gone, LeRon McClain will reportedly focus more on his original FB role, which I think means Willis McGahee and Ray Rice will likely split most of the tailback duties. McGahee started out last year pretty well but became nicked up a little and deferred to emerging bruiser McClain. The Ravens’ running game was difficult to figure out last year — inexplicably McClain or McGahee could get 20 carries while the other hardly played. McClain carried the ball the majority of the time for seven straight weeks but then saw only one carry in the AFC championship game, in which McGahee carried 20 times. Was McGahee secretly “not right” the second half of the year? Rice filled in mostly when McGahee was unable to play at all. McClain has reportedly bulked up to 270 pounds, supporting the idea that he will be used more as a fullback, though God only knows why 260 wasn’t good enough. I think this presents exceptional value for Willis McGahee, who is nearly an afterthought pick in the 11th round or later of mock drafts. Ray Rice is surprisingly drafted ahead of McGahee even though he was mainly a third down back last year. Over 50% of Rice’s carries last year came in the three games when McGahee did not play. I view Willis as darn near highway robbery where you get him in drafts. Even if you like Rice better, it’s well worth the price to have both on your roster as the Ravens running game is sure to produce numbers.

Wide Receiver: Assuming Derrick Mason is truly gone, Mark Clayton is a must add to rosters. He’s guaranteed to see more targets this year, and Flacco should be a more polished passer and have better command of the offense in 2009. Clayton had three of his four best games in the last six games of the year, so perhaps he was even starting to develop some rapport with Flacco then. Outside of him, it’s hard to say that anyone else is rosterable on that team. We assume Demetrius Williams will be the #2 WR, but after that there aren’t too many guys with even marginal game experience as a WR. Kelly Washington will likely compete with Yamon Figurs for third WR’s playing time.

Tight End: Not too long ago Todd Heap was one of the best fantasy TEs in the league. Last year’s production, which was half of what he was used to putting up, has seem him be nearly undraftable in 2009. Again with Mason gone, who is going to catch passes here? Aside from Clayton, Heap is the next obvious choice. I don’t think we can write off Heap entirely because of one down season — and I don’t think we can draw any conclusions based on the offensive system, because although Gates excelled under Cameron, Gates is a HOF talent. If you carry a backup TE on your roster, Heap is worth a spot just based on his history, but he’s too risky to count on as a starter.

IDP: The Ravens were a top fantasy defensive unit last year but individually only have about three really good prospects. Ray Lewis is still a tackling machine (117 with 3.5 sacks and three INTs). Ed Reed is a ball-hawking safety that led the league in interceptions (nine) and scored three times. Terrell Suggs gets a fair amount of tackles (68 last year), will likely lead the Ravens in sacks and has the possibility to score touchdowns as well. Keep an eye on who gets to start in the other ILB spot alongside Lewis. That could net 100 tackles.

There are really no Ravens players that jump out high in a draft. Rice and McGahee must be on teams as should Clayton. The Ravens will run the ball enough that both backs could be worthy of starting. Clayton could be a great late-round nugget. Use your discretion in adding Todd Heap, based on league and rosters sizes and settings.

Rick Jacoby is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Rick in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Azrael.
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