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Bold prediction: Joe Flacco is going to have a career year

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco has been relatively pedestrian for the better part of three seasons. He has dealt with a torn ACL and a back injury. This offseason, the Baltimore Ravens added receivers John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead. They also drafted tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, plus wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley. Due to having a bevy of weapons at his disposal, I believe Flacco will have his best season yet.

Despite drafting their future quarterback Lamar Jackson, Flacco has also been given more tools on paper than he’s ever had in his career. Last season, his top three weapons were receivers Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin, as well as tight end Ben Watson. Wallace, Watson and Maclin combined for 153 receptions, 1,710 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. All three players are no longer with the club.

This upcoming season, Flacco will be able to throw the ball to seven new targets. Brown and Crabtree alone scored 11 touchdowns last year. Snead had a down year in 2017, due to a suspension and injury, but he has been dangerous in the past out of the slot with the New Orleans Saints. In 2016, Snead had 72 receptions, 895 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns.

The biggest difference this year is that Baltimore isn’t relying on just their veteran receivers to catch passes from Flacco. The Ravens are attempting to re-create the Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combo with Hurst and Andrews. Hurst had 559 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns with South Carolina, while Andrews had 958 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns with Oklahoma. Both players have been known to make plays and Hurst has game-breaking ability.

With Flacco having a career-low yards per attempt stat (5.7), it was extremely important for Baltimore to add tight ends who could make plays in space. They did the same at receiver with the Lasley pick, though Lasley has had trouble with his dropped passes.

The Ravens had a solid running game in 2017, ranking 11th in rushing yards (1,856), 10th in rushing touchdowns (14), and 17th in fumbles (five). Baltimore had Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, Terrance West and Danny Woodhead as their running backs last season. Kenneth Dixon will return this season, he provided 382 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in 2016.

Collins and Allen alone rushed for 1,564 yards and 10 touchdowns. And Collins wasn’t the number one running back on the team until Week 5 against the Oakland Raiders. Being able to work off of a strong running game for the entire season will be important for Flacco, who has seen much of his success off of play-action passes.

The offense will get two of its starters back on the offensive line in Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda. Baltimore also drafted Orlando Brown, Bradley Bozeman and Greg Senat, adding beef to the club’s front five. As a unit, Baltimore’s offensive line allowed the seventh-fewest sacks (27) in 2017 with James Hurst and Matt Skura starting a majority of games at guard. Even if injuries crop up along the offensive line, they now have the depth that they’ve lacked in years past.

Altogether, Flacco has more weapons than he’s been allotted in the past. This is the most ambitious that the Ravens have been in correcting the offensive side of the football in recent memory. When he is allotted the weapons and a strong offensive line, like in 2014 and 2012, Flacco has shown that he has been able to succeed.

In addition to Flacco having more quality weapons than he’s had throughout his career, he should be motivated to make this season his best. Jackson will be riding his coattails for the starting job. Though Jackson may not actually threaten him, Flacco “got the message” when the team decided to trade back into the first round.

Motivation brings out the best in some people. Alex Smith achieved greatness when he was pushed by Patrick Mahomes last year. Smith had a 67.5% completion rate, 4,042 passing yards (a career-high), five interceptions (second-lowest of his career) and a league-leading 104.7 passer rating.

Flacco will most likely will be gone in 2019. Despite being a player who has posted three down seasons in a row, Flacco has shown his competitive spirit in the past. It was just a little more than three years ago that he threw four touchdown passes in a playoff game at New England. With the new weapons and his motivation, he should be able to replicate that type of play if he remains healthy for the entire season.