September 19, 2009

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has taken the training wheels off QB Joe Flacco. Are you fantasy-ready?

The two dives, curl route, punt, and play solid defense mindset is quickly changing in Baltimore. This is a squad that wants to open it up behind one of the strongest arms in the league, and a coach with a Philadelphia Eagles coaching pedigree. Yeah, if you haven't noticed, the Eagles like to chuck it.

It's time to "Deconstruct" the Ravens' new offensive scheme and what it means for fantasy purposes.

For most the past, the Ravens ran a simplified offense last year when Flacco was a rookie. While Flacco finished as the 20th ranked fantasy QB in the land, he only attempted 428 passes and failed to throw for 300 yards in any game. Boy, times have changed. In 2009, he will throw over 500 times and have several 300-yard games. Book it.

The offensive transformation quietly began in the preseason, but exploded in front of the fantasy nation's eyes in Week One against the Chiefs. Flacco threw 43 times for 307 yards, one TD, and one INT in his sophomore season debut. He hit seven different receivers, was nimble, and looked like he was out for a Sunday stroll with his poise in the pocket.

Flacco is on the road to becoming much more than a fantasy backup. In fact, because of the new offensive strategy in Baltimore and Flacco's strong arm and QB IQ, he will become a low-end fantasy starter. Let's not forget, Flacco also ran for 180 yards last year. Thus, he can give you points in that area as well. Make a move for him in your leagues and throw him out there when the match-up is right.

WEEK 2 OUTLOOK (@SD): 190 PaYds, 2 PaTD, I INT, 25 RuYDs

I would keep Flacco on the pine in a road game against a sure-to-be fired-up Chargers' defense. That said, the Chargers give up some big plays in the passing game and are soft with TE coverage. You could do worse than Flacco if you're desperate. However, on a non-bye week, you should have better options.

Listen, I'm not suggesting the Ravens are going to abandon the run. Shoot, their RB committee is far too talented to go that route. The scales will still tip slightly in favor of the run because the team's solid defense will usually keep them from getting too far behind.

Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain all had some fantasy value in Week One. Rice put up over 100 rushing yards and his counterparts each found the end zone. Savor it. Across-the-board fantasy production from this RB trio won't happen every week.

Rice is the main engine in this offensive machine. Ray-Ray received 19 carries (for 108 rushing yards and 5.7 YPC) while McGahee and McClain only had 16 carries combined. McClain stole a TD when Rice stepped out at the one yard line on a sick run, and McGahee's TD came on a broken pass play. Trust Rice as an upside RB2 despite his TD-less nature in Week 1.

McGahee and McClain's fantasy value will be sporadic throughout the season depending upon their use in the red zone. Nevertheless, there's no question they will see limited carries throughout the year. The Ravens will be feeding the rock to Rice in both the running and passing games as much as possible. You can use McGahee as a flex in certain matchups; just don't depend on him on a weekly basis.

Notably, the Ravens' RBBC received 13 passing targets in Week One. Flacco is not shy about dumping it off to his backs if things don't open up downfield. In fact, this will be a big part of the Ravens' O. This game plan will help all of the RBs' values, especially Rice's, in PPR leagues.

WEEK 2 OUTLOOK: 80 RuYDs, 0 RuTDs, 3 Rec, 25 ReYDs, 0 ReTDs

The Chargers were 11th against the run in 2008. Shawne Merriman and crew will be amped up in their first home game. Stick Rice out there as a weak RB2 or strong flex this week. While I love Rice's overall upside, he will have more struggles this week unless he can break a long run to pay dirt.

Of course, the Ravens' WRs will be the main beneficiaries of a more pass-friendly attack. The proof is in the pudding. Derrick Mason was targeted ten times and Mark Clayton was targeted nine times in their season debuts. Mason finished the day with four catches for 47 yards, and Clayton had a sweet game with five catches for 77 yards and a TD.

As usual, Mason will be an underrated, yet strong, WR3 in all leagues. In this revamped offense, Clayton will also become a solid fantasy option depending on the matchups. Against weaker secondaries, don't hesitate to throw Clayton out there as a flex or back-end WR3. The Ravens will do enough heaving to make him a Top 30 WR. He's always had the skills, now he has the QB and system.

Kelley Washington has taken over as the third wideout over Demetrius Williams. Shockingly, even Troy Smith saw action over Williams when the team went to four WR looks in Week 1. On three targets, Washington had three receptions for 43 yards. Washington has limited ability and fantasy relevance. You should still monitor the talented Williams in deeper leagues. He will once again overtake Washington for the WR3 spot and could be a nice sleeper -- if Clayton or Mason go down with injury.

WEEK 2 OUTLOOK: 6 Rec, 70 ReYDs, 1 ReTD

Mason is fired up about some negative comments Keyshawn Johnson made about the Ravens' WRs last week. A fired up Mason is someone I want on the fantasy field as my WR3 Yes, even against a talented CB like Antonio Cromartie. A loudmouth CB is just going to motivate Mason even more. Mason is still Flacco's ace option. Start him with confidence.

Ahh, remember the days when you had to decide if you wanted to grab that stud TE Todd Heap in the fourth or fifth round of fantasy drafts. I know, seems like decades ago. Due to injuries, playing in a conservative system, and lack of production, Heap has finished worse than the 20th ranked TE in each of the last two years.

Heap is healthy and running like he was 25-years old again. Would you believe he's still only 29? He's going to be a key component in Flacco's new-found passing game throughout the season. Further, he won't have to stay at home to block as much given Baltimore's improved offensive line. Heap will become a Top 15 TE and spot fantasy starter.

Heap absolutely exploded for five receptions, 75 yards, and a TD on eight targets in Week One. Hmm, pretty nice for a TE who went undrafted in many leagues. Can you say hot waiver wire pick-up?

WEEK 2 OUTLOOK: 5 Rec, 55 ReYDs, 1 ReTD

The Chargers' D was torched by opposing TEs last year. Oh, that won't happen with Merriman back, huh? Think again. Zach Miller had six receptions for 96 yards against them last week. Heap will be a focal point of the offense this week. Ride the "old" man.

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