Of the things we know for sure – the engine that powers the Baltimore Ravens is their Defense. The Purple Birds have been a top six team when it comes to NFL Total Defense in eight of the past nine seasons. The year they missed a top six ranking, Baltimore was still a very respectable tenth overall in the NFL. For the majority of the past decade, the Ravens have reminded us of the Chicago Bears in their Super Bowl Shuffle hay day, although still minus the coveted ring.
While teams that are built with a defense first mantra normally enjoy consistent on-field success, they don't normally offer up a very deep offensive fantasy player pool. We are of the opinion that the door is closing on the Super Bowl opportunity for several key Ravens and that 2012 may be a "Lombardi or Bust" type season in The Old Line State. That said, this team has the horses to make a competive run as we take an early look at the Baltimore Ravens' NFL 2012 fantasy prospects by position.
Ravens Quarterback Fantasy Options
Joe Flacco burst onto the NFL scene back in 2008 when he led the Ravens to the AFC Championship game. A solid on-field game manager, Flacco has been an enigma when it comes to fantasy value. While he improved his stats in each of his first three seasons – reaching a high of twelfth overall in 2010, he regressed somewhat in 2012. The Ravens power-run game plan, with Ray Rice and Ricky Williams , brought his ranking down to 17th in fantasy scoring last season.
Flacco is custom built for owners who like to own a pair of solid quarterbacks, and then play the match-ups on weekly basis. Weeks 3 and 4 last season were solid examples of that as Flacco racked up 34.2 fantasy points against the St. Louis Rams and then came back with 7.9 FP against the New York Jets. Flacco does however have some budding weapons at his disposal heading into the 2012 campaign. We wouldn't be surprised to see him end up on the lower side of the upper tier QB scoring list this season.
Ravens Running Back Fantasy Options
Depending on which scoring system your league employs, Ravens RB Ray Rice was the King of the Fantasy running back castle in 2011. Yours truly filled up on Rice last season and the feast was delicious. Whether the harvest will be as bountiful during the 2012 season is debatable and hinges on several key factors. First and foremost, Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome and Double R have been playing a cat and mouse game when it comes to contract negotiations. Rice is due a fat paycheck - while Ozzie's wallet seems to be stuck in his back pocket. At the time of writing, it looks like the Ravens will franchise tag Rice (he's a UFA) and then try to work out a deal prior to training camp opening on July 15th.
Players in the final year of a contract are normally prized possessions, as is evident by Rice racking up the top RB fantasy points in 2011 – the final year of his rookie deal. Guys that have a Loomis truck back up on their lawn, that drops a pile of money on them, can end up like CJ2K. The good thing about this red flag situation is that Fantasy Owners will know the state of Rice's contract well before Draft Day 2012. Personally, at this early point in the fantasy preseason, I am likely to load up on Rice (as a first round pick) when my selection comes up.
Ravens Wide Receiver Fantasy Options
Part of the reason why Flacco is stalled as a QB middler is due to the fact that his receiving options haven't always been of the stellar variety – more like the garden variety actually. Rookie WR Torrey Smith , who posted 126.1 FP, was the Ravens' top fantasy point scoring wide out in 2011. Of those points -- which left him ranked 24th overall in the NFL -- 55.7 of them came in two games. The rookie, who has blazing speed, averaged 5.4 points per game in his 16 other contests -- ouch! Smith needs to polish his pass route skills to match his sizzling speed, but he will get better moving forward.
Anquan Boldin was hailed as a savior when he signed his $28M four-year deal with the Ravens prior to the 2010 season. While he's shown flashes of brilliance, displayed back in his Arizona Cardinal days, the total numbers haven't transferred over to Baltimore. At 30 years old, and because of knee surgery, last year was Boldin's worst season since he played in just ten games back in 2004. Q did however make it back for the playoffs last season, and he posted 101 yards in the AFC Championship.
A healthy Boldin would bump up his own value, and that of Smith, who is entering his sophomore season. That said, both receivers should still be on the board when it comes time to make your WR tier three selection – one could surprise with his 2012 fantasy production.
Ravens Tight End Fantasy Options
Being as they employ a power-run offense, two tight end sets are very common in Baltimore. Ed Dickson (82.8 FP) and Dennis Pitta (58.5 FP) both showed signs of promise in 2011, but no one will ever mistake them for the Gronk & Hernandez show currently playing at a stadium near you. Pitta was particularly strong down the stretch as he posted double-digit numbers in two of his last three games – including 10.1 in the AFC Championship. That said, the TE by committee system used by the Purple Birds is a situation worth avoiding until the later rounds of your 2012 Draft.
Ravens Place Kicker Fantasy Options
Billy Cundiff, by virtue of his possible game tying chip shot miss against the Patriots in the 2011 NFL playoffs, will be under a cloud of doubt heading into 2012. Cundiff was 14-16 through the first five games last season, before finishing a brutal 18 of 26 to close out the season. Cundiff will be a serviceable, though not top end kicker, as Baltimore will be able to move the chains in 2012.
With lot of factors still pending, the Baltimore Ravens do indeed look like they're built for a 2012 NFL Championship run - and that the Purple Birds will also be Fantasy Championship relevant as well.