Joe Flacco and the 2008 Baltimore Ravens came out of nowhere finishing 11-5 and winning 2 playoff games before finally succumbing 23-14 to the Pittsburg Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. Nobody and I mean nobody could have predicted Flacco’s success as he clearly demonstrated that he has the mo-jo and leadership qualities necessary to be a success in the NFL. However, historically the Ravens have not been known to produce many fantasy studs and that was no different last year as with the exception of WR Derek Mason and RB LeRon McClain no Raven invoked fears amongst fantasy owners.
Flacco was a nice surprise in 2008 but that doesn’t make him any more attractive in 2009 as a fantasy starter. It is not so much Flacco but the system that he plays in and the receivers that he has at his disposal that makes him fall well short of a number one fantasy option at QB. Furthermore, teams will not be surprised by Flacco much in the same way that they will not be surprised with Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. Both had exceptional rookie campaigns but this is the NFL and teams always make adjustments and this will no doubt be the case regarding both Flacco and Ryan. Pure and simple Flacco just doesn’t have many weapons to work with and that hurts his fantasy stock dramatically. Until the Ravens get Flacco some legitimate targets to replace the rag tag guys currently on the roster at the WR position don’t look for him to produce quality stats and certainly don’t look at him as a starting fantasy QB.
McClain was a nice surprise last year and he no doubt helped some owners to titles with his play down the stretch run. The problem is that all reports coming out of Baltimore indicate that McClain is going to be relegated to FB behind Willis McGahee and Ray Rice. McGahee, while only 27 has had numerous major injuries and is extremely weathered. Furthermore, he seems to think that he is better than he actually is with his attitude. Heads up Willis, you are an average NFL RB at best. McGahee rushed for 671 yards and 7 TD’s in 2009 falling well short of what owners who drafted him expected. Don’t look for much more out of McGahee this year as McClain in my estimation will still see the majority of goal line reps and Rice will cut into his attempts between the 20’s. McGahee will go higher in drafts but I believe that Rice will be the more productive fantasy back this year for Baltimore. Treat McGahee as a number 4 rusher similarly to Cleveland’s Jamal Lewis only to be used in desperate situations. Keep on eye on both McClain and Rice in drafts and if you can secure the services of either with a pick around the 9th-10th round snag either of them.
Every year people treat Mason as a fantasy piece of trash yet year in and year out proves without a shadow of a doubt that he is the number one receiving option for Baltimore. 2008 saw Mason catch 80 passes for 1037 yards and 5 TD’s and he was CLEARLY Flacco’s security blanket all year long. Don’t look for anything to change in ’09 as the Ravens have virtually the same receiving corps in tact despite flirting with the Cardinals Anquan Boldin during the off season. That being said Mason still represents at very best a number 4 option for fantasy owners this year. Mark Clayton has been a major disappointment pretty much since day one and is worth nothing more than a late round flier in most formats. TE Todd Heap is injury prone and may be surpassed on the depth chart by Quinn Sypniewski who has shown a lot of promise in his 4 years in the league. Treat Sypniewski as a nice sleeper possibility and avoid Heap based on his past injury problems.
Although ageing the Ravens DST still remains one of the NFL’s best and a worthy number one fantasy unit. However, the team lost a lot of its luster this off season as Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan left to take the Head Coaching position with the NY Jets and took defensive stalwarts Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard with him. The loss of Ryan will surely have an impact on the Ravens and it will be seen whether the team can continue on without him. LB Ray Lewis still anchors this fine unit but if you draft them don’t expect the same kind of dominance you saw from them unit during the early to mid 2000’s. The Ravens are in transition at kicker with veteran Matt Stover no longer with the organization. Rookie Graham Gotto and and Steve Hauschka will battle for the starting position come training camp in July. Whoever wins that battle you are far better off looking at other options at kicker for 2009.
On paper no player on the Ravens roster is starting fantasy material heading into ’09 with the exception of the DST and even then keep your expectations to a minimum as the unit is aging and also minus its leader Ryan. Well, that concludes my examination of the AFC North in terms of fantasy potential for 2009. Next, I will focus on the AFC West and I will start with none other than my Oakland Raiders.