2014 Team Outlook: Baltimore Ravens
WR Steve Smith, BAL - Quality Backup
The diminutive 35-year-old signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract to join the Ravens as they've been in search of a viable compliment receiver for Torrey Smith. S. Smith had to endure bracket and double-coverages for many seasons as the Panthers No. 1 receiver. The University of Utah alum has topped 1,000 yards in seven seasons (most recently in 2012 when he hauled in 73 balls for 1,174 yards and four TDs). His 2013 season was one of his worst, as Smith had 64 catches for 745 yards (50 YPG). He'll now become the second or third option (possibly seeing fewer targets than T. Smith and Dennis Pitta) in Baltimore's passing game. S. Smith's ADP (WR69, 174.12) makes him an obvious afterthought for most fantasy owners. He can be had in the final rounds practically uncontested.
Editor's note: This guy is a grinder. He was forced to practically carry Carolina's passing game for years. Now defenses can't focus on him and he will find open holes in the wake of T. Smith's deep routes and run drag routes next to Pitta. Even the faintest of imaginations will find a way to use S. Smith creatively. There's just no way of knowing, until we see it, how the Ravens will use him and how effective he will be in that new role. Well worth a final round flier as your WR6.
WR Torrey Smith, SF - Solid/Safe Pick
A second round pick from the 2011 NFL Draft (No. 58 overall) posted a career-best season in 2013, finishing with 65 catches for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns. That collective performance ranked him as the 21st-best fantasy WR in his first season as Baltimore's No. 1 WR. His 1,100-plus yards was the first time a Raven hit that mark since Qadry Ismail in 1999. Improving a pedestrian catch rate (just 46-percent over the past two seasons) could take his fantasy value to the next level. He has averaged an impressive 17 yards per catch over his first three seasons and new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has a solid track record of getting elite production from his No. 1 wide receiver (Andre Johnson in Houston). The younger member of the Ravens' Smith duo is entering a contract year and his ADP (WR27, 60.03) make him a solid WR3 who is drafted in late Round 5 or early Round 6. Many of the No. 1 receivers in this range of the draft are on bad teams; however, Flacco is probably the best (or at least generally reliable) QB throwing to these WRs out of the bunch (NYJ Eric Decker - Geno Smith, TEN Kendall Wright - Jake Locker, and MIA Mike Wallace - Ryan Tannehill).
Editor's note: In order for Smith to really take the next step in his development, he must be able to contribute more as a possession receiver and not almost solely as a deep threat. While his speed and ability to stretch the field serve a great purpose, the Ravens lacked the No. 2 or 3 receivers to maximize this strategy last season. Steve Smith will be tasked to work the short and intermediate routes and find the open areas in coverage. (Torrey) Smith does provide some upside too because if he can improve on his aforementioned catch rate, his numbers could enjoy a serious uptick.
WR Marlon Brown, BAL - Deep-league Only
Marlon Brown finished second on the team in targets in 2013. Unfortunately, he will be hard pressed to repeat those numbers with the signing of Steve Smith and return of Dennis Pitta in the starting lineup. This undrafted rookie from Georgia tied a rookie franchise record with seven TDs, while hauling in 49 catches for 524 yards (37 YPG). He's penciled in as the Ravens' No. 3 WR entering training camp, but Gary Kubiak's reliance on two-TE sets is concerning. Brown has a very small amount of upside. It just may need to wait until Smith is gone or until Brown can flat-out play up to his skill set. There just isn't likely to be enough passing offense to keep Brown in the mix on a weekly basis.
WR Jacoby Jones, SD - Low Potential
The Dancing with the Stars talent spent the first five years of his career in Houston and reunites with new OC Gary Kubiak. Jones is a solid special teamer, although his contributions and fantasy relevance have been limited. Jones has never had more than 600 yards receiving and only once topped three touchdowns in a season (caught six touchdowns in 2009). During his two seasons in Baltimore, he's averaged 33 catches for 430 yards. Jones is only fantasy relevant in leagues that reward special-teams yardage handsomely (ranked sixth in kick return yardage last season with 892 yards --28.8 yards per return).
TE Owen Daniels, DEN - Over the Hill (decreased production)
The 31-year-old joins OC Gary Kubiak in Baltimore after spending his first eight NFL seasons in Houston. Much like Dennis Pitta, Daniels suffered through an injury-plagued 2013 season that limited him to just 24 catches for 252 yards with three touchdowns over five games. Baltimore figures to run many two-TE sets. Daniels' upside is very limited as the team's No. 2 TE. The occasional big game is inevitable. The one week you thought to give him a shot, he will catch two TDs, both of them combining for about 11 yards. More importantly though, Daniels has missed 26 games over his eight-year career, so he's probably best-suited for a more limited role to keep him healthy. Barring another injury to Pitta, Daniels isn't an option in leagues where you only need to start one TE.
TE Dennis Pitta, BAL - Solid/Safe Pick
This 29-year-old is coming off an injury-plagued 2013 season (hip surgery) that limited him to just 20 catches for 169 yards over four games. Provided he doesn't suffer any setbacks, he's a player to target thanks to being a Flacco favorite in the red zone. Also, new OC Gary Kubiak's system loves tight ends and will maximize his talents. Just look at the numbers put up year-to-year by Owen Daniels in Houston (averaged 62 catches per season during his four years in Houston where he played at least 15 games). In 2012, Pitta had his best season: hauling in 61 receptions for 669 yards and seven touchdowns (finished as the seventh best fantasy TE in standard leagues). He should be a better target in PPR leagues, but remains a solid TE1 in standard formats as well (despite the presence of Daniels, who will make for a great second TE). Pitta will likely finish as the second-leading Ravens pass-catcher to Torrey Smith.
Editor's note: Pitta's ADP (TE8, 90.61) is right where it should be. This means you could draft three RBs, three WRs, a QB and then a TE like Pitta in Round 8. Nothing wrong at all with a roster like that after eight rounds. He could be a Top 5 TE and therefore outperform his draft stock; however, the Ravens must prove they can pass-protect again and operate more competently offensively.
UPDATE: Flacco's security blanket has declared himself 100% and is expected to split out wide in Kubiak's TE friendly system making him a play to target for those that miss out on the top five tight ends.