Baltimore Ravens Fantasy Football 2017 Preview: Danny Woodhead Is A Steal
From a fantasy perspective, the Ravens entered the 2016 as one of the most inscrutable teams in recent memory. QB Joe Flacco was a known commodity, but the running back, wide receiver and tight end positions were an unpredictable jumble. A year later, there have been comings (Danny Woodhead, Jeremy Maclin) and goings (Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, Kyle Juszczyk), but the 2017 Ravens are only slightly more understandable than the 2016 edition.
Thing is, it’s hard to figure out what the Baltimore offense will look like. The Ravens have led the league in passing attempts in each of the last two seasons. Pass-happy Marc Trestman coordinated the Baltimore offense in 2015 and for the first five games of 2016 before being fired. He was replaced by Marty Mornhinweg, and the Ravens were no less pass-heavy after the change, but at that point their offense had been installed and it was too late for a sea change.
Mornhinweg was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator for seven seasons, from 2006 through 2012. Philadelphia ranked in the top 10 in passing play percentage in six of those seven seasons. So Mornhinweg is a pass-first guy too, right? Well, maybe not. After leaving the Eagles, Mornhinweg spent two seasons as the Jets’ coordinator, and during that period the Jets’ offense was run-heavy, finishing fourth in running play percentage in each of those seasons. It’s also worth noting that the Ravens have brought in Greg Roman as a senior offensive assistant, a title that suggest he’ll have significant input. In each of his five full seasons as an offensive coordinator (four with the 49ers, one with the Bills), Roman’s units have ranked in the top 10 in rushing attempts.
|Joe Flacco||QB23||QB23||Only in 2QB leagues|
So if the Ravens aren’t as pass-heavy as they’ve been the last two years, what happens to Joe Flacco’s fantasy value? Flacco finished second in pass attempts last season, just one throw behind league leader Drew Brees, yet finished QB20 in fantasy scoring.
I won’t torture you with more “Is Joe Flacco elite?” humor. That shtick has been beaten like Neil Peart’s drum kit. For fantasy purposes he’s been consistently mediocre. In his eight full seasons (discounting 2015, when he missed six games after tearing his ACL), Flacco has finished in the QB10-20 range every year, including five finishes in the QB17-20 range. A reduction in volume could drive Flacco out of fantasy-backup territory and into the Jared Goff zone. In Flacco’s defense, he began the 2016 season less than a year removed from the ACL surgery. And if the Ravens run the ball more, perhaps the reduction in Flacco’s passing volume would be offset by an uptick in efficiency. (His average of 6.44 yards per attempt last year was about a half yard below his career average.)
Flacco might not be drafted in average-sized leagues, but he’s a semi-palatable option in 2QB and superflex leagues. His ADP of QB23 seems spot-on.
|Terrance West||RB41||RB35||Approach warily|
The ADPs of Baltimore’s running backs are in a state of flux following the announcement that second-year man Kenneth Dixon would miss the entire season with a knee injury. With Dixon on the shelf, interest in Danny Woodhead and Terrance West is sure to perk up.
Woodhead, an offseason acquisition, has been productive when healthy, finishing RB24 in 2012 (standard scoring), RB19 in 2013, and RB11 in 2015. He rates even better in PPR formats. But Woodhead tore his ACL in Week 2 last season, and in 2014 he broke his leg in Week 3. He’s only 5-8, 200 pounds, and he’s 32 years old. But Woodhead is lock to be the Ravens’ passing-down back, and he might also get snaps near the goal line, where he’s been surprisingly effective. A healthy Woodhead should have a sturdy floor, and he’s the sort of player you can feel comfortable slotting into your RB2 or flex spot most weeks. But with his age, injury risk and lack of a workhorse upside, it’s easy to understand why the market hasn’t wrapped its arms around him. A lot of smart people think Woodhead is a steal, but given the risk factors and the lack of high-end upside, I think he’s merely a solid buy.
Terrance West now figures to get the majority of early-down work, though we can’t rule out the possibility that the Ravens will sign another back—say, for instance Ryan Mathews, whose release from the Eagles is said to be imminent. West churned out serviceable surface stats (193 carries, 774 yards, five touchdowns) last season, but he has a career average of 3.9 yards per carry and has scored 11 touchdowns in 38 career games. The potential volume is enticing, but West is an ordinary back whose limitations will be glaring if he shoulders a heavy workload.
|Jeremy Maclin||WR35||WR40||Be cautious|
|Mike Wallace||WR52||WR45||Strongly consider|
|Breshad Perriman||WR62||WR57||Reasonable flyer|
When Jeremy Maclin broke into the league with the Eagles, Mornhinweg was his offensive coordinator for his first four seasons. Maclin put up pretty consistent numbers over that span, and his production under Mornhinweg in Philly seems like a reasonable barometer of what we can expect to see in Baltimore. If you take Maclin’s per-game averages from that period and project them over 16 games, you get 116 targets, 70 catches, 936 receiving yards and seven TDs. But projecting Maclin for a full season of good health is a leap of faith. He missed four games with a groin injury last season, he’s had two ACL tears (one in college, one in the NFL), and he’s had multiple concussions and hamstring injuries.
It’s been hard to pin down Mike Wallace’s post-Pittsburgh numbers, since he’s bounced between three teams over the last four years. He’s coming off his first 1,000-yard season since 2016, but after scoring 10 TDs with the Dolphins in 2014, Wallace has scored six touchdowns over the last two seasons. To his credit, Wallace has been durable – he’s missed only one game in eight NFL seasons.
Charles Kleinheksel of RotoViz (@spidr2ybanana) took a closer look at Maclin and Wallace in a recent article and noted that Wallace’s career averages align pretty closely with DeSean Jackson’s averages in Philadelphia while Mornhinweg was there. In the four-year period when Maclin and Jackson overlapped in Philadelphia, Maclin averaged 19% of team targets and 8.12 yards per target, while D-Jax averaged 18% of team targets and 9.59 yards per target. There wasn’t much of a gap between the two in fantasy value.
Drafters see a fairly large value gap between Maclin, whose ADP is WR35, and Wallace whose ADP is WR52. I don’t think there’s much a value gap between the two, which explains why I’ve acquired multiple Wallace shares in early drafts and haven’t taken Maclin.
The other Baltimore receiver worth discussing is Breshad Perriman, who’s 23 years old but has the unfortunate hairline of a man twice his age. A first-round pick in 2015, Perriman missed his rookie season with a torn PCL, then had an uneven 2016 that resulted in a stat line of 33-499-3. Perriman caught only half of his targets last year but averaged a robust 15.1 yards per catch. The Ravens’ acquisition of Maclin has cooled talk of a possible Perriman breakout. Perriman is still draftable in most leagues, though, and a 6-2, 215-pound receiver with 4.3 speed isn’t a bad way to spend a late-round pick.
|Ben Watson||N/A||TE31||Save for waivers|
With yet another hip injury likely to end Dennis Pitta’s career, and with athletic freak Darren Waller suspended at least a year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Ravens offer little of interest at tight end. Ben Watson had a career-best 74-825-6 season with the Saints in 2015, but Watson is 36 and missed the entire 2016 season with a torn Achilles tendon. Maxx Williams, a second-round draft pick in 2015, showed little as a rookie, missed all of 2016 with a knee injury and now has an uncertain post-surgical future. Crocket Gillmore had his moments in 2015 but he played just seven games last year and missed OTAs after double shoulder surgery. Nick Boyle is also in the mix, but he’s slower than a glacier (pre-global warming), has a PED suspension on his record and never had as many as 500 receiving yards in any of his four college seasons at Delaware. Feel free to pass on this unpalatable tight end goulash.