Note: The exercise here it to examine each of the NFL team’s post-draft roster, dissect the early offseason narratives and determine what I actually believe. Thinking out loud about each team will help me crystallize my insights (biases?) for the season ahead, and each team’s chances. I’ll also be taking a look at the recently updated depth charts to see who I want to be buying and selling this summer.
Another Note: I’m old to fantasy, older to football, relatively new to best ball, but I’m fresh off the boat when it comes to publishing. So in the off-chance anyone is reading this, bear with me. I promise to stick with this and get better as I go.
The Narrative: The Ravens are a middle of the road team, with a definitively average quarterback, destined for mediocrity, forevermore. The post 2012 Super Bowl/Flacco contract era has yielded one 10-6 season and a collection of duds.
The Reality: While Baltimore may very well add to its streak of 500ish records, but Harbaugh is not getting credit for keeping this franchise consistent and relevant, despite the limitations of their QB. While the record may not carry them to the playoffs this year, progress is being made and the fantasy output may provide green shoots of hope to the Ravens faithful.
Consider This: Flacco’s best yardage total came in the 2016 season That happens to be the year that Marty Mornhinweg’s took the helm as offensive coordinator. While 4,300 is not terribly exciting, keep in mind Flacco was throwing the ball to Mike Wallace, a last gasp Steve Smith, and Denis Pitta for the majority of those yards. The running game was going through Terrance West, with some rookie year Kenneth Dixon sprinkled in conservatively. It was hardly an all-star cast, but Flacco managed hopeful numbers all the same.
Year two of the Mornhinweg tenure was to be better. In 2017, the game plan was for Dixon to make the leap, Wallace to match his 2016 performance and additions Maclin, Woodhead and Watson to absorb and surpass Smith’s 2016 contribution. It was not to be though as Woodhead was lost to injury, Dixon to suspension/injury and Maclin to disappointment. Flacco’s yardage totals were anemic.
Despite those misfortunes, John Harbaugh, in his 10th season as head coach, managed to squeeze 9 wins out of his team. Those games were all won fairly convincingly, while three of the losses were by 3 points or less. These included a 1-point loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, a 3-point loss to the Titans in Nashville and an overtime loss to Chicago at home. So, with a poor roster made weaker by injuries, Harbaugh and his staff were able to keep the players committed and the season viable.
Going into the 2018 season, Maclin and Wallace have been replaced by Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead. This seems like a pretty clear upgrade over last year’s duo of Maclin and Wallace. Adding another target between now and camp would not be a great surprise.
The backfield should also be stronger. Alex Collins made the most of his opportunity in 2017 and has earned a role in 2018. He’ll certainly start the season as the early down back but given Woodhead’s departure the door is open for Dixon to claim the 3rd down roll from Buck Allen. Again, adding another body to the backfield would not be a surprise. It should be noted that the 2018 draft classes had a fairly heavy lean towards offensive players, yet none of those players were running backs. More on this below.
If the Ravens can stay healthy this season the improvements at receiver and running back should offer a lot more yardage than the 2017 roster. Mornhinweg entering his third year as OC, should also not be discounted. This is a team with a floor of 500ish, but with the chance to surprise with as many as 10 wins.
Spotlight: who I want to own in fantasy 2018
The Ravens have Collins, Allen and Dixon at RB. They just spent the draft choosing virtually every offensive position, except running back. It seems safe to conclude that they like what they have, or at the very least want to see what they have. Kenneth Dixon is still on his rookie deal until the end of 2019. There is virtually zero chance he is not making this team this year, and a very good chance the Ravens want to give him a long hard look between now and the end of his cap friendly number. Rookie RB deals are to be milked, and all indications are the Ravens want to get all they can from Dixon.
At the moment he can be had cheap. In best ball his ADP is just over 194 and he will likely a forgotten or little loved name for re-draft and dynasty, as attention is drawn to the shiny new toys of the recent draft class. I would expect Dixon to get some love between now and August as his role becomes clearer and the offseason stories are written. I would imagine he will be a popular sleeper name list on many of the pre-season columns. I’d suggest loading up on shares of Dixon now.
Looking Ahead: Lamar Jackson
Jackson seems to be everyone’s favourite contrarian pick for best QB from the 2018 class, and I’m fully on board with this not so contrarian opinion. First off, the fact that he is unlikely to be forced to play early is a great benefit. Having been drafted by a franchise with an owner committed to his coaching staff is also encouraging. Marty Mornhinweg’s tenure as a QB coach and offensive coordinator speaks well to Jackson’s chances at developing, given the coordinators history with the likes of Steve Young and Brett Favre. Quarterback Coach James Urban worked with mobile QBs like Vick (comeback year) and McNabb. So organizational patience, consistency and experience should provide Jackson with a solid foundation to build on. Had a QB named Jimmy O’Connor put up similar numbers, with similar tape, in a pro-style offense at the college level, it is hard to imagine them not being a top 3 pick. But alas, this is not the world we live in and the Ravens stand to gain by seeing the light. I’m buying Lamar and giving him two to three seasons to realize his potential.