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Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Baltimore Ravens team preview

Can Ray Rice bounce back from a lackluster 2013 season? Photo:

Can Ray Rice bounce back from a lackluster 2013 season?

It’s not uncommon to see teams and fantasy players take a step back in quality the year after a Super Bowl title, like Baltimore did in 2013. From new contracts to off-the-field issues to major injuries, the Ravens saw it all last year -- as did their fantasy owners. Throw in the retirement of team leader Ray Lewis, and you can understand why this team struggled out of the gate last season. 

But 2014 should be different, and fantasy owners should be excited about the prospects of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce working with new offensive coordinator Gary KubiakUnfortunately, Rice may face a suspension after being charged with assault in an incident where he allegedly struck his fiancéeCouple the possible suspension with the fact Rice is coming off a horrible season in which he posted nearly half the rushing yards and touchdowns from '12, and you begin to understand why Rice has an ADP in the sixth round of 12-team leagues.

TE Dennis Pitta made a name for himself at the tight end position a couple seasons ago. A hip injury sidelined him for all but four games last year, and he believes he’s close to 100 percent. Kubiak has a history of getting his tight ends involved, which fantasy owners love to hear.

If this version of the Ravens can regain their focus, they can supply power in several spots, which is what fantasy owners want to hear.

Most overvalued player

Ray Rice, RB – While I’ve spelled a lot of gloom and doom, not all is lost for Rice this season. The running back will be working behind a revamped offensive line, and after slugglishly going through the motions every Sunday last season, Rice reportedly lost 20 pounds in the offseason.

But is that enough to warrant spending a sixth-round pick on a player that could end up missing six games of the fantasy regular season due to suspension? Even if it’s just a two-game suspension, will he be able to step right in without issue? Probably -- but will he step right in as if 2013 never happened?

By the sixth round, owners will likely already have a pair of running backs, a pair of wide receivers and likely an elite quarterback or tight end on board. A case can be made that risking a sixth-round pick on a player you’d have as a fantasy backup that could have first-round value is a good idea, but it all depends on what running backs are available at this point. Right now, Rice is being taken ahead of Stevan Ridley, Steven Jackson and Pierre Thomas, not to mention wide receivers like Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, Julian Edelman and teammate Torrey Smith.

In the sixth round, you should have better fantasy options available – like Pitta.

Most undervalued player

Torrey Smith, WR – In his third season, Smith notched his first 1,000-yard season in his first year as Flacco’s No. 1 target on the team once Anquan Boldin landed in San Francisco. Despite being one of the only pieces of good news from last season for this team, we still realized he’s more of a deep threat at this stage of his career.

With Kubiak in town, expect Smith to be utilized on shorter routes a little more, which might bring down his 17 yards-per-catch stat, but in the long run, help his team (and fantasy teams). 

Flacco is coming off a disastrous season, but let’s not discount he was sacked almost 50 times. If he gets some protection, any protection, it will allow his speedy receivers time to get separation and get open.

Even on a run-oriented team, Smith will give you better fantasy value than the sixth round he’s being taken in right now. Considering Rice’s pending suspension and dismal 2013, Kubiak and Co. may have to pass the ball more than they expect. Grab Smith in his contract year and expect good things.

Depth chart

QB: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
RB: Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett
WR: Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones
TE: Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels
K: Justin Tucker

Obviously, if Rice is a risky pick, his handcuff makes sense as a value pick. Bernard Pierce had a rough 2013, picking up just 2.9 yards per carry after a promising rookie season, but he’s getting drafted in the eighth round in most drafts. That just seems too high after last season, considering he still doesn’t have blitz pickup down. He could be a decent RB2 in the games when Rice is suspended, but that’s not enough to draft him as one of the top 100 players.

Pitta will become a bigger focal point also, and a healthy season from him could net his owners great fantasy value. Unfortunately, the Ravens also brought in Kubiak-friendly Owen Daniels from Houston. Don’t let that dissuade you from drafting Pitta in the middle rounds, since Daniels can’t stay healthy.

Tucker set a Ravens franchise record in 2013 with 140 points scored, and he’ll likely be one of the first kickers drafted in the later rounds. Kubiak’s improved offense, along with a running game that could stutter near the goal line again, makes Tucker a great pick once again.

Defensive analysis

  Total D vs. Pass vs. Run  Points allowed
NFL rank 26 18 30 10
  vs. QB vs. WR vs. RB vs. TE
Fantasy rank 17 15 14 25

With about half of the squad starting the season at 30 years of age or older, the influx of youth from this past NFL draft is much needed. They didn’t do much from a fantasy perspective last season, but to be fair, it was their first without Ray Lewis in over a decade.

Ending up with the Ravens D/ST as your defensive unit isn’t a bad thing -- especially if this offense takes some steps toward improving, as many are expected. They will likely be available near the end of your fantasy drafts, like the Browns and Buccaneers.

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