Ten seasons into his NFL career, Joe Flacco hasn’t established himself as anything remotely close to being a fantasy-worthy starting quarterback. One could even argue he has regressed since a promising 2014 campaign, a year in which he finished with a then career-best 3,986 yards and 27 touchdown throws.
Flacco has completed a higher percentage of his throws in each of the past three season since — and even set a personal-high mark with 4,317 yards in 2016 — but failed to average better than 6.8 yards per attempt in that window. In fact, his average per try dipped to a pathetic 5.8 yards in 2017, a figure rivaled by the Brett Hundleys and Geno Smiths of the world. Many factors are at play in this stat, several of which are out of his control (offensive line protection, receivers getting open, game plan), but 5.8 yards per attempt is historically reserved for the most timid of passers.
Anyway, the overarching point: Flacco is who he is at this stage of his career and isn’t going to magically become Tom Brady. With that in mind, all one can hope for is that Flacco is the Flacco he can be with improved weaponry at his disposal. He won’t make receivers better.
The offensive line remains a major area of concern, and having an effective running game will take some pressure off of the 11-year veteran. None of the current members of Baltimore’s projected backfield profile are special, though Alex Collins has enough promise to encourage thoughts of improved play.
Following a disappointing one-and-done experiment with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Baltimore parted ways with the veteran. Fellow wideout Mike Wallace was allowed to walk away in free agency, and the Ravens wasted no time rebuilding the receiving corps.
Michael Crabtree becomes top target
Entering his age-31 season, Crabtree’s odometer isn’t a notable factor for a guy in his mold. Possession receivers don’t need to be blazing fast, and Crabtree’s game is based on precise route-running skills to create separation.
He has never been particularly efficient at catching the ball. In fact, he led the NFL in drops in 2016, finishing third in drop percentage (6.21). Last season, Crabtree was second with a 4.95 percent rate. It really didn’t matter a great deal in ’16 when he was targeted 145 times, but five drops in 101 looks last season stuck out even to casual observers. Going back to 2015, eight of his 146 targets were catchable drops, “good” for a 5.48 percent failure rate (4th highest).
Looking ahead. it would be a tough sell to convince anyone Crabtree will see 145 targets in 2018. The most by any Ravens receiver in the last three seasons was Kamar Aiken’s 127 in 2015. One has to go back to 2006 to find a receiver with more than 130 targets in a Marty Mornhinweg offense.
The best-case scenario for Crabtree’s fantasy contributions would be by way of touchdowns. He scored a touchdown every 9.3 receptions in the past three seasons. During this span, the former Texas Tech star averaged 77 receptions and 847 yards per season, missing two games in that window.
Both of those numbers are more than reasonable expectations as minimums for Crabtree in his first season with the Ravens. Should he find the end zone somewhere around his recent average of eight per season, Crabtree would check in as a WR2 by year’s end. The safer way to find out is by adding him as a third receiver and letting him outplay his draft placement. Translation: Don’t reach for Crabtree based on past results.
John Brown’s risk-reward ratio
Brown comes over from a roller-coaster run in Arizona. His first two seasons set the tone for a promising NFL career as a sidekick to Larry Fitzgerald. In the two most recent years, however, Brown’s fortunes took a turn for the worse. He was diagnosed with a sickle-cell trait in 2016, a condition limiting his ability to heal in a timely manner. Brown insists it had nothing to do with his downturn, and he believes it won’t affect him in the future. Science and history disagree, but he’s entitled to sell himself to the media.
Brown caught five touchdowns on 48 balls in his rookie year, adding seven more scores over a 65-catch, 1,003-yard haul as a 2015 sophomore. No one expects he will take over games or become Flacco’s go-to target, but a healthy Brown could do some damage as a flex or matchup play. One thing is certain, his fantasy stock really couldn’t be much lower after a 21-reception 2017 campaign.
He will battle for looks with Breshad Perriman, whose time with the Ravens is in peril without a strong offseason. The former first-round receiver has more downfield ability than Brown, but this is about all one can expect from Perriman. Coupling a one-trick pony skill set with hands of stone, Perriman is could be playing catch-up against the more dynamic Brown when it comes to expected playing time.
Keeping enthusiasm at a minimum, Brown offers mild potential to be a deep sleeper with virtually no risk in the late rounds of fantasy drafts.