Fantasy football draft season is fast approaching. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
The Ravens have shiny new Super Bowl rings and Joe Flacco has a shiny new contract, but what will they do for an encore? After a tough offseason of defections and the training camp injury to rising star tight end Dennis Pitta, there are some big holes to fill, and much of that will fall on Flacco's shoulders. And other than No. 1 receiver Torrey Smith, Flacco has no one else of significance in his receiving corps. Good luck.
The lack of depth sure makes Ray Rice and Smith intriguing fantasy prospects relative to their draft position. Smith is primed for a breakout season as a third-year receiver. Rice will likely fall to the second half of the first round of fantasy drafts, but he could be a steal at that spot.
At the thinning tight end position, owners might be able to find a late-round gem among the Ravens, too. Losing Pitta for the season to hip surgery opens up a potentially huge role for Ed Dickson, who is just 26 and was the Ravens' future at the position before Pitta's surprising 2012 breakthrough. Dickson does not yet rate as a starter in standard fantasy leagues, but he will become one during the season.
The Ravens will still center their offense on the running game behind Rice and surging backup Bernard Pierce, but Flacco will get 3,500-plus yards and 20-plus touchdowns. Someone is going to have to reel in those scores, of course, and Smith and Dickson stand to be among the most frequently targeted players at their positions this season.
|Baltimore Ravens' 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Ravens' upcoming foes fared in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
When a team wins the championship in a league like the NFL that strives for competitive balance, that team is due to play a tough schedule the following season, so things won't be easy for the Ravens. First, prospective Rice owners should note that the Ravens play four of the five best teams against running backs defensively, and half of Baltimore's schedule comes against teams in last year's top 10 of fantasy rankings against running backs. Then, after what should be a productive start to the season for Flacco, the Ravens play a brutal stretch against stiff defenses in weeks 10-13: the Bengals, Bears, Jets and Steelers.
If you don't deal Flacco after a Week 6 shootout against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, definitely deal him before that Week 10 stretch begins. He isn't going to be a true starting fantasy option during crunch time of the regular season, even if his fantasy postseason looks favorable against the suspect secondaries of the Vikings, Lions and Patriots.
QB: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
RB: Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Anthony Allen, Damien Berry
WR: Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Brandon Stokley, Tommy Streeter, Deonte Thompson, David Reed
TE: Dallas Clark, Ed Dickson, Visanthe Shiancoe, Billy Bajema, Matt Furstenburg
K: Justin Tucker
|Baltimore Ravens' 2012 defensive rankings|
On the surface, many will assume the Ravens will decline after losing future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis (retirement) and Ed Reed (signed with Houston) in addition to Bernard Pollard and Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger. However, the Ravens are now younger, quicker and more athletic on defense, thanks to additions like outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, lineman Chris Canty, safety Matt Elam (draft) and safety Michael Huff.
Also, Terrell Suggs is another year removed from Achilles surgery, so he should be healthier and more potent on the edge, particularly with Dumervil drawing attention on the opposite side. You can question the two inside 'backers of their 3-4, but the Ravens remain strong and deep on the corner with Lardarius Webb, Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith. This stands to be a top-10 defensive unit again -- it was just 17th last year with the guys the Ravens "lost." There are a lot of IDP options here to like, particularly Suggs, Dumervil, Huff and the run-stuffing tackle Haloti Ngata.