Seven years into his career, it is apparent that Joe Flacco is a far better actual NFL quarterback than he is a fantasy quarterback. In fact, he has only finished one season as a QB1, finishing as the 12th ranked fantasy quarterback back in 2010. Last season, his PPG average of 20.4 marked the high point of his career as he finished the season as the 14th ranked quarterback with career highs in yards with 3,986 and touchdowns with 27. Heading into 2015, there is no evidence that he will emerge as anything more than a mid-tier QB2. At 36, Steve Smith is a year older and he faded badly over the second half of last season. Speedster Torrey Smith has been replaced by rookie 1st round pick Breshad Perriman. Tight end Dennis Pitta may never play again and Owen Daniels, who played well as his replacement, left via free agency and was replaced by rookie 2nd round pick Maxx Williams. While we view the addition of Marc Trestman as offensive coordinator a plus, we’re not buying the notion that Flacco will emerge as a solid QB1 in 2015.
Every year there is a player that surprises with an outstanding season and propels his fantasy owners deep into their league’s playoffs. Acquired either as a late round flyer or an early season waiver wire pickup, Forsett was that player in 2014, finishing the season with 1,263 rushing yards, 263 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, finishing as the 8th ranked fantasy running back. That marked a career year for Forsett, who struggled for most of his first six years in the league while playing for four different teams. With Marc Trestman having taken over as the Ravens offensive coordinator, Forsett should be in line for another solid season in 2015. He appears to be an ideal fit in Trestman’s offense which funnels plenty of passes to the running back position. In addition, Forsett faces little competition for touches from a pair of largely unproven players in Lorenzo Taliaferro and rookie Javorius Allen. Due to his diminutive size, Forsett isn’t in line for short yardage work so a huge touchdown count shouldn’t be expected. However, we expect him to approach 1,300 yards with another 8-10 touchdowns, production that is in line with a low end RB1 or high end RB2.
With little proven talent behind starter Justin Forsett, the Ravens used a 4th round pick for the second year in a row to help address the running back position. After drafting Lorenzo Taliaferro last season, this season they acquired Southern California product Javorius Allen. With Forsett having done little during his first six years in the league before enjoying a breakout season in 2014 at age 29, this is a handcuff situation that bears watching. While Taliaferro is a physical runner with marginal pass receiving ability, Allen possesses good size and is superior in the passing game.
Taken in the 4th round of last year’s NFL Draft, Taliaferro was expected to spend the season buried on the Ravens depth chart. However, Ray Rice’s suspension and subsequent release and Bernard Pierce’s struggles resulted in Taliaferro essentially splitting the backup role behind Justin Forsett with Pierce. In limited playing time, the 6’0”, 229 pound Coastal Carolina product amassed 292 yards on 68 carries while adding eight receptions for 114 yards and scoring four touchdowns. Heading into this season, Taliaferro is expected to compete with rookie 4th round pick Javorius Allen for playing time behind Forsett. Of the two, Taliaferro is more of a between the tackles runner who could earn touches in short yardage situations while Allen is a superior pass receiving threat out of the backfield. With Forsett having topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his seven year career last season, his owners should monitor this battle in the preseason.
Having watched Torrey Smith leave via free agency, the Ravens were expected to address the wide receiver position in the draft. And as so often seems to happen for Baltimore, an outstanding prospect dropped in their lap at the 26th spot in the 1st round in the form of Central Florida speedster Breshad Perriman. Let’s run down the check marks: good size at 6’2” and 212 pounds, outstanding speed with a 4.25-40 time, proven big play producer in college. It will be a surprise if Perriman isn’t lined up opposite Steve Smith on opening day. Throw in the fact that Perriman is a perfect fit to play with a strong armed quarterback in Joe Flacco that plays to his ability to make plays down the field and there might be some fantasy gold here, especially in dynasty formats. While Perriman may struggle early, he has tremendous upside and should be viewed as a solid WR4 with upside in redraft formats.
Somewhat surprisingly, Smith entered the 2014 season on fire, generating some big plays on his way to gaining 640 yards and scoring four touchdowns on his 38 receptions during the first six weeks of the season. Unfortunately, his career renaissance was short lived as he struggled over the remainder of the season. The big plays dried up with Smith catching 41 passes for 425 yards and a pair of touchdowns during the final 10 games of the season. Looking ahead to 2015, Smith’s saving grace might be the departure of Torrey Smith and the continued injury struggles of tight end Dennis Pitta. That should keep his target count around the 134 he had last season, but we don’t view his big play production during the first portion of last season as being very easy to replicate. His upside is as a WR3, capable of approaching 900-950 receiving yards with 5-6 touchdowns.
After a promising rookie season in 2013 when he caught 49 receptions for 524 yards and seven touchdowns, Brown regressed badly during his sophomore season. Forced to split playing time with Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro, Brown saw his targets drop from 81 to 31 as he caught 24 passes for 255 yards while failing to find the end zone. Torrey Smith’s departure and the addition of rookie 1st round pick Breshad Perriman, coupled with the fact the team will likely enter the season without a proven pass catching option at tight end, offers a small glimpse of hope for Brown’s fantasy prospects. He failed to take advantage of Dennis Pitta’s injury shortened season last year, losing touches in the intermediate passing game to Owen Daniels. While Brown holds some appeal in dynasty formats mostly due to Steve Smiths’ age, he is waiver wire material in redraft formats.
With Dennis Pitta’s career in doubt and 2014 3rd round pick Crockett Gillmore viewed as more of a blocker than a receiver, the Ravens used a 2nd round pick in this year’s draft to acquire Maxx Williams, widely regarded as this year’s top tight end prospect. Williams is a talented player who should emerge as a solid weapon in the passing game, and the Ravens draft well so we expect that he will have a long, productive career provided he remains healthy. However, rookie tight ends regularly struggle (witness Eric Ebron’s struggles in 2014) so even if Pitta fails to return to health, we’re not expecting big things from Williams in 2015. And if Pitta does somehow steal some targets then Williams has no fantasy appeal whatsoever in redraft formats.
Having dislocated and fractured his hip for the second time in two years, Pitta’s 2014 season came to an end in Week 3 last season. His medical prognosis isn’t promising and neither are his fantasy prospects. After showing such promise as a receiver during the 2012 season when he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns, Pitta’s career has gone downhill with just seven games played over the last two years. At this point, it is even difficult to consider him worthy of stashing on your roster in the deepest of dynasty leagues.