"This is it. This is the year that Ed Dickson becomes my breakout tight end!" - Me, circa fall, 2012.
Fantasy football, much like the Baltimore Ravens, is a lot of things. When done properly, it can be a joy. Other times, your hopes of glory can swing wider left than a Billy Cundiff field goal attempt. We, as players and fans, typically employ the same measure of blind faith in fantasy as in real football. We scour sleeper picks in the same way that we sift through Aaron Wilson's training camp tweets (Not Jamison Hensley. He blocked me on twitter after I blamed him for Jimmy Smith's most recent bar incident. You can't hide from the truth, Jamison!). We fool ourselves into believing that we are the only ones in our league that has read the most recent Matthew Berry article. "I'm the only person in my league who will be targeting Michael Vick in the first!" you convince yourself (I will never forgive you for that Mr. Roto). As is the case with most things in sports, fantasy is skill, luck and lying to yourself until you succeed.
The Ravens' offense appears to be on the cusp of a breakout 2014 season. This has been a theme before but never before have the Ravens had Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator. Few times before has the team shown the promise it has this preseason, particularly in the run game. Some are predicting career bests for quarterback Joe Flacco. Who can blame fans for hoping? The offense has looked good. And with this, we look to what it means for fantasy owners. What sort of blind faith must we take solace in this season? Will Ray Rice return to form as a Pro Bowler and RB1? Let's take a look.
(Note: I prefer ESPN leagues so all ADPs and auction values are based on their numbers.)
QB Joe Flacco
ADP: 127th overall, 19th QB
Auction Value: $0
Well there you go, Flacco haters. At least in a fantasy world Joe is our $0 Man. Congratulations, kids. Regardless, Flacco is coming off of his worst year as a starter in the NFL. I've been burned by Flacco in fantasy before. However, reports from training camp have been positive. He's looked good in preseason. The offensive line looks retooled. There are reasons for optimism. There are reasons for faith. That being said, I still would not trust him with your fantasy team. I have him stashed on my bench as my QB2 with upside. I am an eternal Flacco apologist. Call it what you want, but I think Flacco has a better fantasy season than Alex Smith (18th QB), unless he is outdone by Bernard Smith's eternal four-yard gains.
RB Ray Rice
ADP: 57th overall, 22nd RB
Auction Value: $10
These numbers would have been insane at this point last fall. Even with the abysmal preseason numbers that the Ravens were stringing together. Rice had been a stud in fantasy, as in reality. Things changed this last year. Then Atlantic City happened. Despite a seemingly lenient suspension of two games, coming on the heels of a terrible season for the Ravens run game as a whole, Rice is still a viable fantasy option. Reports are good out of training camp. Rice has also looked good in limited snaps in preseason. But there is that suspension and Bernard Pierce is surging ahead on draft boards. I believe the Ravens will run the ball a great deal under Kubiak. Arian Foster and Ben Tate were both viable fantasy players in his system. I don't see why Rice and Pierce could not do the same. If you can get Rice and are willing to wait out those two games, he will be a steal at where he's going right now.
RB Bernard Pierce
ADP: 123rd overall, 42nd RB
Auction Value: $2
Not much else to say on Pierce. He's lost weight. He's averaging 5.3 YPC in the preseason. He looks like a high end RB2 or flex at the least. Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke sees him overtaking Rice for the number RB1 job even after the suspension. Not sure if I buy that, but he is a good fit for the system and runs hard. For many years, owners would draft both DeAngelo Williams and the severed foot of Jonathan Stewart. Draft with confidence he will contribute.
WR Steve Smith, Sr.
ADP: 115th overall, 42nd WR
Auction Value: $2
Steve Smith will be a beast in PPR leagues. He catches everything thrown his way and adds a serious attitude to the Ravens offense. I see his value in standard leagues being about where he is being drafted, perhaps a little higher. I think Anquan Boldin in 2012 numbers are very reasonable for him this year, even at 35.
WR Torrey Smith
ADP: 63rd overall, 22nd WR
Auction Value: $10
I'm a value guy when I draft. It's not that I don't believe in Torrey. He's going to have a good year in this offense. However, relative to his draft position, I would take Steve Smith, or another wideout around that time. I don't trust the consistency in the deep ball. However, he remains a solid WR2 option. I don't see any one Raven being the "Andre Johnson of this offense."
TE Dennis Pitta
I love Dennis Pitta. I just do. I am a total homer with him in my fantasy leagues. Flacco loves targeting him. They're best friends off of the field! What could go wrong? Pitta will likely see a number of targets, with his steady hands and the new inclusions of screen passes to the offensive scheme. Owen Daniels will not eat into his targets because he is the Series of Unfortunate Events of tight ends.
QB: Tyrod Taylor - hahahaha don't draft him. I don't care if Joe joins Star Fleet and is never seen again (KHAAAAAAAN). You're better off with Andy Dalton (HAH).
RB: Lorenzo Taliaferro leads the NFL in rushing yards this preseason. Keep and eye on the situation in the backfield as he could see some time in the event of an injury.
WR: Marlon Brown is a curious choice. He has high upside if he continues to grow as a red zone target but with Steve Smith in town, I don't know if I would draft him. Monitor the receiver situation. Jacoby Jones is always interesting as a flex play in deeper leagues because of his returns.
TE: Owen "MY LEG" Daniels see above.
For those interested you can follow me on twitter through @dpatrickguy. I will be attending the game and should be live tweeting the line to the bathroom at half time. Probably will go something like this here.
Happy drafting, Ravens fans. Here's to another season full of blind hope.
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $100,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1's NFL games. It's only $10 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1pm ET. Here's the link.