The Ravens brought in Steve McNair to win a Super Bowl, and it looked like they were on the right path after a 13-3 regular season. But McNair made a critical error in the divisional playoffs against the Colts by throwing an interception in the red zone, and that turned the tide in a game Indianapolis won 15-6 en route to its championship.
Faced with a window of opportunity that was closing quickly thanks to aging players like McNair and Ray Lewis, the Ravens made a big splash in the offseason by trading three draft picks to the Bills for running back Willis McGahee. The hope is McGahee can revive a running game that hasn't been the same since Jamal Lewis led the league with 2,066 yards in 2003.
If McGahee can help provide some balance, the Ravens' offense finally might be worthy of sharing the same locker room as the team's championship-caliber defense. A lot will depend on a revamped offensive line and its ability to adjust to a different way of thinking -- no longer is this a bunch of straight-ahead maulers. What fantasy owners will find in Baltimore are some exciting possibilities that come with a dash of potential and a hint of risk.
Projected draft round Player Round Steve McNair, QB 14 Willis McGahee, RB 1-2 Mike Anderson, RB 16-17 Mark Clayton, WR 6-7 Derrick Mason, WR 11 Todd Heap, TE 6 Matt Stover, K 17 Defense/special teams 10 Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions: RB Willis McGahee. Key losses: RB Jamal Lewis, FB Ovie Mughelli, G Edwin Mulitalo, T Tony Pashos, LB Adalius Thomas.
Defense/special teams. The Ravens' defense is aggressive and likes to blitz, but more than that it's filled with talented players who make the scheme work. This group can get to the quarterback from several different angles thanks to players like Trevor Pryce, Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott and Ray Lewis. And big plays can be had in a defensive backfield led by Ed Reed. Unfortunately, this unit did lose some firepower when Adalius Thomas (11 sacks in '06) signed with New England in the offseason, but somehow this unit usually finds a way to reload. The Ravens are second to the Bears among fantasy defenses, but that's just because Devin Hester puts Chicago over the top.
Todd Heap, TE. Heap doesn't have the downfield explosion of an Antonio Gates or Vernon Davis, but what he does have is his offensive coordinator's full attention. Heap was the third-most targeted tight end last season, and thanks to Steve McNair's increasing reliance on the short passing game, Heap is in for another stellar season. It also helps that his team lacks a true red zone threat at wide receiver, so he's almost guaranteed to get six or seven scores to go along with all those yards. You don't have to jump early to get Gates because you can snag Heap a few rounds later.
Ray Lewis, LB. Lewis isn't the tackles beast he was in previous years, but he still can provide across-the-board production. Lewis recorded a career high in sacks with 5.5 last season, and he was plenty active in coverage with six passes defensed and two interceptions. That balance is what keeps him among the top 10 IDP options at linebacker.
Willis McGahee, RB. McGahee has struggled to get anything going in the preseason. But trust us, he's still in a better situation in Baltimore than in Buffalo. The Ravens' defense will put the offense in good position to score, and McGahee will have a chance to roll up yards late in games because Baltimore is likely to be protecting some leads. There's little doubt that Brian Billick is keeping things simple in the preseason so as not to show his hand, so look for McGahee to get back on track with an easy early schedule. You'll be glad to have him as your No. 2 fantasy back.
Matt Stover, K. Stover doesn't get as much fantasy love as Adam Vinatieri, Neil Rackers or Shayne Graham, but it's not for a lack of effort. Stover led the NFL in field-goal accuracy last season and topped 110 points for the fourth straight year. So while other owners foolishly use earlier picks to nab those more high-profile kickers, you can look smart by waiting to take Stover in the final round.
Terrell Suggs, DE. Suggs arrived in Baltimore four years ago and immediately made an impact with 12 sacks in his rookie season. While he has yet to top that number, Suggs has become a much more complete IDP league threat. For the past three years, Suggs has made 60 total tackles or more, putting him among the rare breed of linemen who can provide elite numbers in sacks and tackles. The only thing missing is a forced turnover or two, but with the aggressive nature of this defense, anything's possible.
Trevor Pryce, DE. After coming from Denver, Pryce injected new life in the Ravens' pass rush by tying a career high with 13 sacks. His addition was a big reason why Baltimore finished with 60 sacks and was second only to San Diego in that category. At 31 and coming off a career year, Pryce would seem to be a bit of a risk, but not when he's playing opposite a space eater like Haloti Ngata. Pryce is a quality No. 2 lineman in IDP leagues.
Bart Scott, LB. Scott proved to be an excellent complement to Ray Lewis in the middle of the Ravens' defense. For the first time in his career, Scott topped 100 total tackles, and he was tied for second on the team with 9.5 sacks. Because Baltimore's defense is predicated on freeing up its middle linebackers to make plays, Scott will continue to deliver as a No. 2 linebacker in IDP leagues.
Mark Clayton, WR. Entering his third season, Clayton is primed to cement his status as the Ravens' No. 1 wide receiver. But that doesn't mean he should be your No. 1 or even No. 2 fantasy receiver. Clayton still has to battle Heap for touches in the red zone, and he's coming off a sprained ankle suffered in the preseason. Provided he's healthy, Clayton has a good shot at notching 1,000 yards and around six scores.
Ed Reed, S. Reed has good instincts and makes plenty of plays on the ball. Plus, he's always a threat to take one back for a touchdown. But because his fantasy production relies mostly on interceptions, he can be an all-or-nothing player in IDP leagues. The inability to rack up a bunch of tackles limits him to being a borderline No. 2 defensive back in those leagues.
Steve McNair, QB. Like Brett Favre, McNair has more value to his team in leadership than on the actual stat sheet, which is why he can lead his team to a 13-3 season and be a bad fantasy option at the same time. McNair ranked 26th among quarterbacks in average fantasy points per game last season. At 34, he no longer can be a threat outside the pocket, and he's more of a high-percentage dink-and-dunk passer than anything else. Sad to say, but McNair is barely worth having as your No. 2 quarterback.
Derrick Mason, WR. For the third straight season, Mason's yardage and touchdown totals decreased, and it's becoming increasingly evident that he's second to Clayton in the Ravens' wide receiver pecking order. With Heap also stealing touches in the red zone, there's no room for Mason to improve, either. In fact, with Demetrius Williams nipping at his heels, Mason could be in for a continued decline. It's telling that Mason couldn't revive his numbers last year despite his old buddy McNair coming over from Tennessee.
Mike Anderson, RB. Anderson and Musa Smith were battling during the preseason to be McGahee's backup. Neither player figures to provide value unless McGahee were to get hurt. And at 33, Anderson is unlikely to give you long-term value even if he were to become a starter. At best, you're looking at a potential bye-week fill-in.
Demetrius Williams, WR. Williams averaged 18 yards per catch last season, which put him within range of other deep threats such as Donte' Stallworth, Devery Henderson and Joey Galloway. But Williams hasn't been able to establish himself as anything more than a big-fly guy, so his fantasy production figures to be spotty. If he moved into a starting role, though, he'd be an intriguing waiver-wire pickup.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: Matt Stover ($2.75 million) was the NFL's most accurate field-goal kicker last season (93.3 percent conversion rate). Plus, he scored more Sporting News points than higher priced kickers Jason Elam, Adam Vinatieri and Shayne Graham. Another reason to like him: His bye week isn't until Week 8, so you can save some early-season trades by having him on your team.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: Brian Billick is gradually turning the Ravens into a passing team. But Billick and offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel are just doing it out of necessity. With a veteran QB like McNair and emerging perimeter threats such as Clayton and Williams, it makes sense for the Ravens to abandon the "cloud-of-dust" offense of the Jamal Lewis era. Plus, the running game has struggled lately.
On defense, coordinator Rex Ryan prefers an attacking style, and he has the ultimate chess piece in Ray Lewis to move around and confuse opposing offenses. The Ravens were second in sacks and takeaways last season, and they were tops in defensive scores. As you can see, all those blitzes lead to a plethora of points for fantasy owners.
Offensive line: Left tackle Jonathan Ogden's talent and McNair's savvy were big reasons why the Ravens finished second to the Colts in fewest sacks allowed last season. But Ogden, who missed most of the preseason while recovering from a toe injury, needs more help from his teammates in order to recharge the running game. The only team worse than the Ravens in average yards per carry last season was the Cardinals.
Baltimore lost guard Edwin Mulitalo and tackle Tony Pashos in free agency and is making a transition to a more agile unit to take advantage of McGahee's strength as a slashing-type runner. But based on preseason action, this group has work to do. It would help tremendously if first-round pick Ben Grubbs could work his way into the lineup and add some fresh talent to the mix.
Schedule analysis: The first seven weeks look favorable for McGahee and the running game. The Ravens will face the Bengals, Jets, Cardinals, Browns, 49ers, Rams and Bills. But after a Week 8 bye, things start to get tougher. There are road games against the Steelers, Chargers and Dolphins. Plus, a Week 13 home game against New England won't do any favors for your playoff push. But at least you'll miss out on Week 17's game against Pittsburgh, because most league commissioners have the sense to end the season before then. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: 20th toughest (or 13th easiest).