by Dan Trader (@RotoNostra)
In fantasy football, only single players are highlighted and given room to shine, regardless if they’re on a great or horrible team in real life. So what I chose to do instead of standard power rankings was take a look at all 32 NFL teams and rank them based on their fantasy relevance for the 2016 season in standard leagues, considering their current rosters, systems and surrounding conditions as criteria. Much can change between now and the opening of the regular season, but the following rankings are merely opinions from my perspective based on the current state of affairs and are ranked in the order in which I would invest in them, not based on which teams will have the best records at the end of the season.
The rest of the rankings can be found here.
Don’t hate me Ravens Nation, it pains me to rank my team this low, and not only because I have them below several teams that I hate (from a competitive standpoint). The problem for me is, despite a plethora of uncertainty, I’m actually pretty optimistic Baltimore will be relatively successful as a team in 2016 and continue to contend with their sights set on another championship. I don’t think that’s the irrational fan in me speaking on my behalf either, but it probably would be if I were to rank them any higher for fantasy purposes. This ranking purely reflects their floor potential for production.
The Ravens are coming off a disappointing season of 5-11, finishing third in the AFC North for the second consecutive year. Much of 2015’s shortcomings can be attributed to the litany of injuries the team suffered, such as Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, and Terrell Suggs, to name the most notable. Marc Trestman was also in his first season with Baltimore, which might suggest a period of adjustment acted as a contributing factor. Regardless, the Ravens offense averaged 20.5 points per game, which was good for 25th in the league, while also failing to meet the league average in yards per play despite running 81 more.
Now this season, with hopefully (or at least close to) completely healthy key players, there is no doubt that there is solid depth on offense, but right now it’s to the detriment of fantasy GMs. There’s currently so much depth that no one has any real idea how they will be utilized despite operating in a fantasy-friendly system under Trestman.
Regardless, the Ravens are out to compete this season, and in the second year with Trestman as the coordinator, Baltimore could be a productive offensive unit. The only problem is figuring out who to invest in.
To Be Elite, or Not To Be?
First off, just so you know where I stand, what the hell did you expect him to say?
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, regardless of whether you think Flacco is elite or not, the fact remains that he wins games. It’s just that real-life NFL success doesn’t always translate into reliable fantasy production, and Joe has always been a spot-starter or streamer at best in fantasy.
However, the Ravens led the NFL in pass attempts last year, finished 14th in total yards, and Flacco’s completion percentage was at a career-high at over 64% before going down week 11. Joe also delivered over 300 passing yards in five games, resulting in an average of nearly 280 yards though the air in the first ten games of the season
The Trestman Effect
In year two with the Ravens, we can expect Flacco and company to be a little more comfortable in Trestman’s pass-heavy scheme. Joe had 413 attempts before his season ended early in week 11, which could have translated to 661 over a full year. And just for added perspective, Flacco has attempted around 100 fewer passes in five of his seven NFL seasons.
Trestman’s presence is also felt in the run-game as well. Of the ten players who led the team in receptions in 2015, three of them were running backs. Forsett went down week 11 and ended the season with 31 receptions. That was 14 less than Javorius Allen, who had 45 catches for 353 yards and two scores, which met the Trestman quota, seeing that he has never had a back receive less than 45 catches. Even Kyle Juszczyk had 41 receptions for 321 yards and four touchdowns.
Also, like I mentioned earlier, the Ravens had the most passing attempts in the league last season, which propelled receivers like Steve Smith, Sr. and Kamar Aiken into fantasy relevance.
Depth for Days
Assuming the Ravens can stay healthy this season, the depth chart on offense will be unlike anything Baltimore has ever seen before.
Mike Wallace was signed during the offseason and adds to a receiving corps consisting of Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, and Jeremy Butler. The team also added exciting prospects in Chris Moore and Keenan Reynolds in the draft, who are absolutely worth a gamble in dynasty leagues or rookie drafts.
The tight end depth got a little deeper as well with the signing of Ben Watson, who will join Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and possibly even Dennis Pitta in 2016.
And we still haven’t even addressed the running backs, which includes the likes of Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliafero, Trent f***** Richardson, and selected one of the more exciting backs in the draft in Kenneth Dixon.
Looking at these players, yes, there are playmakers. But one fact stands out to me and looms like a black cloud: in spite of the depth they sport and regardless of what Joe Flacco might say, from what we know currently, there isn’t one truly elite player on the offensive side of the ball, which ties directly into their fantasy ranking.
Who to Target
Flacco is not an exciting fantasy prospect by a long shot but he definitely will have some appeal if things go according to plan throughout training camp. He’s not someone I’d draft in standard leagues but could easily fill a spot-start void in the right matchup.
Mike Wallace and Kamar Aiken present intriguing values among the receivers in redraft leagues. Wallace is currently being drafted as the WR63, which is one spot ahead of Nelson Agholor. He may be a one dimensional receiver, but so was Torrey Smith during his tenure in Baltimore. For five consecutive years Wallace was, at worst, a top-27 receiver and his last two quarterbacks were Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater, who are far from deep ball specialists. After signing a two-year deal with the Ravens, I don’t think it will be too difficult for him to outperform his ADP.
Aiken’s level of production might be more reliant on Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman’s involvement, seeing that he stepped up in their absence. But man, oh man, did he step up. He led the team from a receiving standpoint with 75 receptions, 944 yards and five touchdowns. The coaching staff won’t ignore production like that and neither should fantasy GMs.
Of the running backs, while I don’t have much faith in him (in terms of fantasy), 31-year-old Justin Forsett is going late in mock drafts (RB36) and is the lead back on the team as of this moment, so there could be value there. But Kenneth Dixon was a player I was watching closely before he was drafted and landed in a system favorable to his skill set. Trestman’s lead back has averaged over 60 receptions over his 11-year career and Dixon earned nearly 1,000 receiving yards through his collegiate tenure. His SPARQ score also tested in the 64th percentile of running backs at 5’10 and 215 pounds.
Going into training camps, the situation is unclear right now in Baltimore and that uncertainty is why they are ranked where they are for me. By the end of the summer we could have a clearer picture of the roles and be able to formulate realistic expectations. There are definitely players that could earn a return on your investment, and as a fan I’m optimistic. But as of right now, there could be a different leading offensive scorer at any position each week.