Preseason - 2021 Baltimore Ravens Outlook
John Harbaugh returns for his 13th season as head coach for the Ravens. He has a 129-74 record with nine playoff berths and one Super Bowl title. The Ravens went 35-13 over the past three seasons, with Lamar Jackson making 37 starts. Harbaugh has one losing season in his career (5-11 in 2015).
Last year Baltimore dropped to 19th in offensive yards (2nd in 2019) while scoring 468 points (7th – 531 in 2019). Before Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback, the Ravens went 20 seasons without a top ten offense.
Greg Roman returns for his third year as the offensive coordinator after spending the last two seasons as the Ravens' offensive assistant and assistant head coach. He led the offense of San Francisco and Buffalo over six seasons from 2011 to 2016. His strength is running the ball based on two top finishes in rushing yards for the Bills in 2015 and 2016 while ranking highly in his last three seasons with the 49ers (4th, 3rd, and 4th). Baltimore led the NFL in rushing in 2019 (3,296 yards) and 2020 (3,071 yards). Ramon has never finished higher than 23rd in passing yards (32nd in 2020 – 2,919) while delivering about league average passing touchdowns in most years before his success over the past two seasons (36 and 27 touchdowns).
Over the last two years, Baltimore's defense ranked in the top 10 in yards. They allowed 303 points (7th), 282 points (3rd) in 2019, and 287 points (2nd) in 2018.
The Ravens brought back Don Martindale for a fourth year after spending the previous five seasons in Baltimore as the linebacker's coach. Martindale has 16 years of pro coaching experience highlighted by his 2010 season when he had his first shot at being a defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos. The Ravens ranked in the top 12 in defensive yards allowed over the last eight seasons.
Baltimore added G Kevin Zeitler and T Alejandro Villanueva to upgrade their offensive line. Zeitler had a down season for the Giants in 2020, but his resume has been steady and impressive in run and pass blocking since getting drafted. Villanueva shined as a late bloomer for the Steelers. His best play slants to pass protection, but he did show better value in run blocking earlier in his career.
They lost C Matt Skura and T D.J. Fluker to the Dolphins.
Their defense lost DE Yannick Ngakoue and DE Matthew Judon. Both players delivered success in the pass rush while lacking the foundation to ranks above the league average defending the run. Ngakoue has a higher ceiling.
WR Sammy Watkins signed a one-deal after working at the WR2/WR3 for the Chiefs over the past three years. His best season (60/1,047/9) came in 2015 after getting drafted in the first round in 2014. He continues to underachieve his expected upside with a fading value in years per catch (11.4).
The Ravens landed WR Rashod Bateman and DE Odafe Oweh, with their two selected in the first round.
Bateman has a good feel for setting up defenders off the line and the skill set to make plays at all three levels of the defense. His hands are assets while coming in at 6'0" and 190 lbs. He lacks the quickness to create space in a deep route tree, and elite cornerbacks can shut him down.
Oweh brings an explosive skill set to attack the quarterback. Power and speed are the keys to his success, but he still needs to improve his technique while needing to improve his vision and anticipation. Oweh should move into the starting lineup based on the Ravens' losses in the pass rush in free agency.
In the third round, Baltimore invested G Ben Cleveland and CB Brandon Stephens.
Cleveland has the build and power to make an impact on the offensive line, but he needs plenty of work to improve his foundation skill set and vision. Coaching will help him, but some of his shortfalls may not be achievable. Cleveland needs a better punch and more follow through in his strength.
Stephens converted from running back to cornerback two years ago, which puts him in the development mode. From a physical point of view, he looks ready to go with the movements to excel. His weakness comes in his technique and understanding of play development. Stephens also trails in his short-area quickness.
Baltimore added WR Tylan Wallace in the fourth round. His route running separates him from the field while playing bigger than his size (5'11" and 195 lbs.). Wallace needs to develop a better release against top press corners, and he does have questions about his first-step quickness and acceleration out of some routes. His style of play should give the Ravens a possession wide receiver with the ability to make plays downfield and win in tight coverage.
With their final three picks in the fifth round, Baltimore took fliers on CB Shaun Wade, DE Daelin Hayes, and FB Ben Mason.
Wade has a playmaker feel with his best qualities coming in press coverage and against the run. He lacks the wheels to handle top talent in the deep passing game, and his fundamentals need more work. Wade's qualities paint him as a possible safety where his tools would offer more upside.
Hayes earns his keep with hard work and leadership. He projects better rushing the quarterback than supporting the run. His ceiling isn't high enough to become a full-time difference-maker.
Mason plays hard with plenty of power in his fight. His experience comes at fullback, linebacker, and defensive line while not excelling at any position. Baltimore added him to help block on power and short-yardage plays.
Baltimore placed 1st in rushing yards (3,071) with 24 touchdowns. Their rushers gained 5.5 yards per carry for the second straight season thanks to having a high-volume running quarterback (159/1,005/7). They averaged 37.0 rushes per game.
The Ravens fell to last in the NFL in yards per passing yards (2,919) with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 32 sacks.
LT Ronnie Stanley
Stanley moved to elite status at his position in 2019. He dominated in pass blocking while playing at his highest level in the run game. Stanley has exceptional quickness with his feet leading to an edge in pass blocking. Last year he repeated his advantage in all areas, but Stanley missed 10 games with an ankle issue that required a pair of surgeries. The Ravens added him in the first round in 2016.
LG Ben Cleveland
The Ravens hope Cleveland is ready to seize a starting opportunity. His game maintains the direction of a power running team while needing to develop in multiple areas to earn a full-time starting job.
C Bradley Bozeman
Bozeman made 32 starts over the past two seasons at left guard while failing to make an impact in any area after getting drafted in the sixth round in 2018. This year his playing time could be at risk while possibly moving to the center position.
RG Kevin Zeitler
Zeitler has a successful nine-year resume in the NFL. His calling card comes in his strength in pass protection. Twice over the past four seasons, he played below expectation in run blocking. Zeitler gives Baltimore a second offensive lineman who has the talent to be a top-tier starter at his position.
RT Alejandro Villanueva
Over the past five seasons with the Steelers, Villanueva played well each year in pass blocking. Some of his success was helped by Ben Roethlisberger getting the ball out quickly. He faded as run blocker over the past two seasons.
Baltimore comes into 2021 with questions at left guard and center while they have one stud to protect Lamar Jackson's blindside. The right side of the offensive line grades above the league average with plenty of experience. They should run the ball well, and the legs of Jackson keep sacks allowed in a favorable area.
The style of this offense is all about running the ball. The Ravens led the NFL in rushing attempts (555), accounting for 57.8 percent of their offensive plays. Baltimore showed more explosiveness in the passing game in 2019, which is an area they need to improve to make a deeper push in the postseason.
QB Lamar Jackson, BAL - Stud (low risk)
After a sensational 2019 (4,333 combined yards with 43 touchdowns), Jackson lost value in almost all key stats last year. He did run for over 1,000 yards for the second straight year while delivering a solid season in combined touchdowns (33).
He passed for fewer than 200 yards in 12 of his 17 starts (including the playoffs), with seven of those coming over his final eight contests.
Jackson slipped to 10th in quarterback scoring (23.33 FPPG) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. He scored over 30.00 fantasy points in four starts. On the year, Jackson averaged 25 passes per game.
Fantasy Outlook: Every rushing yard counts twice as much as each passing yard in four-point passing touchdown leagues. Based on his last two seasons, Jackson's run success translates to 2,000-plus passing yards. In essence, he becomes almost a 300-yards passer game with winning value in touchdowns.
Baltimore has a top option at tight end, and their receiving core looks improved. Jackson only needs to average 225 pass yards per game paired with his rushing success over the past two seasons to regain a top-five quarterback opportunity. In the early draft season, Jackson is the fourth quarterback drafted. My bet is on 4,500 combined yards and a floor of 35 touchdowns. His downside comes with an injury that affects his running ability.
Other Options: Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley, Kenji Bahar
RB J.K. Dobbins, BAL - Dynasty Only
The Ravens' running backs gained 5.1 and 5.3 yards per rush over the previous two seasons. They've had a floor of 14 rushing scores since 2018. The change to Lamar Jackson behind center led to a bottom tier opportunity for their running backs in the passing game in 2019 (49/409/5) and 2020 (47/364/1).
Over the first six games, Dobbins only averaged six touchdowns per game, leading to 228 combined yards with two touchdowns and 11 catches. His opportunity became fantasy relevant over the Ravens' final 11 games (827 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 11 catches), which came to 12.88 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. His highlight games came in Week 17 (13/160/2).
Baltimore stole RB J.K. Dobbins in the second round in the 2020 NFL Draft. He brings a fighter's mentality to the run game with strength in his game. His mission is to drive the ball forward with quickness, vision, and against the grain cuts. He'll take a hit and lose his balance, but Dobbins finds a way to stay upright on many plays while offering a stiff arm.
While playing in a great system at Ohio State, Dobbins looked elite in his freshman year (1,538 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 22 catches on 216 touches) while seeing about 55 percent of the running back opportunity. His game regressed in 2018 (1,316 combined yards with 12 touchdowns and 26 catches). Mike Weber (172/954/5) outplayed Dobbins on many days. In 2019, Dobbins regained his bounce in his step, which led to a high volume opportunity (301/2,003/21 plus 23 catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns).
Fantasy Outlook: Baltimore will run the ball well again this year, and Lamar Jackson will steal one-third of the running show. Gus Edwards is a better player than most fantasy owners believe. Dobbins should be the top choice on third downs while looking to be on a path to receiver 250 combined touches. I expect a minimum of 1,200 combined yards with 12 touchdowns and 35-plus catches. His mid-May ADP is 24 as the 14th running back off the board. He projects as a top 12 running back in 2021.
UPDATE: Dobbins exited Baltimore's final preseaon tilt with what appeared to be a very serious knee injury. Dobbins's left knee was bent back and he was down for some time before being helped to the sideline. After exiting the blue tent, Dobbins was consoled by teammates and carted to the locker room. Upon an MRI on Sunday, a torn ACL was confirmed, which will end Dobbins's season.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
RB Gus Edwards, BAL - Sleeper (undervalued)
In his three seasons with the Ravens, Edwards gained over 5.0 yards per rush every year (5.2, 5.3, and 5.0). He has limited value in the passing game (18/194), but his play in this area flashed more explosiveness in 2020 (9/129 – three catches over 20 yards). Last year, he finished with a combined 852 combined yards with six scores and nine catches on 144 carries). Baltimore gave him over 10 touches in six of his 18 games played.
Fantasy Outlook: Edwards has a floor of 700 rushing yards each year. He plays with power while offering a closing mentality when Baltimore plays from the lead. The Ravens will increase his role after losing the third wheel at the running back position. His next step is 180 combined touches for 950 yards with five to seven touchdowns and double-digit catches. Edwards has a 10th round ADP as the 44th running back drafted.
UPDATE: Edwards now warrants RB2 considerations after it was confirmed that J.K. Dobbins indeed tore his ACL in Baltimore's preseason finale. With 250-plus touches, Edwards can deliver top-20 numbers, especially if he can show improvements in the passing game.
RB Justice Hill, BAL - Bye Week Fill-in
Hill was the fourth wheel in the Ravens' running game in 2019 and 2020, which led to minimal touches in all games. He ran a 4.4 forty at the NFL combine in 2018 while showing plenty of strength (21 bench press reps). Justice runs with a quick tempo and a sense of the big play on many carries. His vision, power, and shake help him make defenders miss in the open field. Hill wants to run outside, which may hurt his value in some game vs. a top-run defense. He should emerge as the change of pace back for the Ravens. His next step is improving in pass protection to help earn more snaps on passing downs.
Over two seasons of action, Hill gained 375 combined yards with two touchdowns and 13 catches.
Fantasy Outlook: The Ravens would like to tap into his big-play ability, but Hill only has a handcuff feel at this point of his career. Don't dismiss him while keeping an open eye on his progress over the summer.
UPDATE: Hill should lead Baltimore's backifeld in targers now with the season-ending injury to J.K. Dobbins. While the Ravens don't throw a ton of passes to their backs, Hill could be in a position to deliver usable PPR stats in deeper leagues.
Other Options: Ty'Son Williams, Nate McCrary
WR Marquise Brown, BAL - Quality Backup
Baltimore's wide receivers had the lowest opportunity in 2019 (115/1,419/17) and 2020 (137/1,729/16), which puts a low ceiling on their receiving core. The Ravens gave their wide receivers 41 more targets, but their overall catch rate (62.6) came in below their success in 2019 (64.6).
Brown drew a WR3 price tag in the 2020 draft season. He finished as the 36th highest scoring wide receiver in PPR leagues (183.00 fantasy points). His only game with over 100 yards receiving came in Week 1 (5/101). Brown finished with 58 catches for 769 yards and eight touchdowns on 100 targets while having nine drops. Baltimore gave him five catches or more in six contests. His scoring picked up over his final six weeks (26/338/6 on 41 targets).
Fantasy Outlook: Brown ended last year with 45.7 percent of their wide receiver targets. He offers big-play and scoring ability, but his ceiling is limited to the growth of Baltimore's passing game. His natural progression should be 70 catches for 1,000-plus yards and a chance at 10 scores. The Ravens added more competition at wide receiver, leading to more overall production from their wideouts. Brown has an ADP of 105 in the 12-team high-stakes market, creating some value in his price point.
WR Sammy Watkins, BAL - Deep-league Only
Seven seasons into Watkins's career, he has 321 catches for 4,665 yards and 33 touchdowns over 86 games. His career started in a bottom-tier offense for the Bills in 2014 after getting drafted fourth overall out of Clemson. Even so, Watkins played his ball as Buffalo's WR1 over his first two seasons (65/982/6 and 60/1,047/9).
Over the past four years, he's had the opportunity to play for two high-scoring teams (LAR and KC). Injuries cost him 15 games since 2017 while failing to produce WR2 stats (39/393/8, 40/519/3, 52/673/3, and 37/421/2). Watkins only made nine plays over 20 yards over his last 89 catches compared to 32 over 125 chances in 2014 and 2015. The Chiefs kept him closer to the line of scrimmage over the previous two seasons, leading to no plays over 40 yards and continued fade in his yards per catch (13.0, 12.9, and 11.4).
Fantasy Outlook: Watkins still has life in his tank at age 29, and maybe a move to a schoolyard-type offense helps his value in the deep passing game. Jackson is a scrambling quarterback looking for receivers to break free downfield rather than relying on timing and play selection to move the ball in the air. Watkins has enough size to be a factor at the goal, but the passing pie in Baltimore has a low ceiling. He is an upgrade over their 2020 options at wide receiver. I expect between 40 and 55 catches with some scoring value depending on his ability to play an entire season. Watkins can work as an explosive flash player at times, but he will be a frustrating week-to-week option