Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
As the Ravens saw injuries hit their members wrought with worry as there were more.
Eagerly they wish the morrow;—although these wishes were so hollow
All they could do was wallow—wallow watching their QB4—
Mallet, Schaub, and Clausen; all we can do is abhor—
Pointless here for evermore.
Even before the injury, Flacco had at best a mixed bag of a fantasy season. He set career highs in completion percentage (64.4) and passing yards per game (279.1) on 41.1 pass attempts per game. However, a decrease in touchdown rate (from 4.9 in 2014 to 3.4 percent) and an uptick in interception rate (2.2 to 2.9 percent) tempers the excitement. In short, his 2015 was the equivalent of walking into a fun house room of mirrors; you are both entertained and terrified.
Hopefully the team will make it into the 2016 season unscathed and add a few weapons to help out Flacco. The return of Steve Smith is great but how long can they rely on the potential hall of famer? Add in “rookie” Breshad Perriman and Flacco owners should have some optimism. He just turned 31, so the ageists do not need to try and find the Grail Knight just yet.
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Already on his third team, Mallett has found ways to alienate himself to teammates and coaches alike. We call this an equal opportunity jerk. At this point in his career, Mallett has lost the “potential” label (will be 28 before the 2016 season) and has revealed himself as an inaccurate passer (55 percent career completion rate) with a penchant for playing conservatively (5.4 yards per attempt). If you are going to be inaccurate, at least go for the big play Ryan! With a $1.5 million salary in 2016, he should be the backup, but I would expect the team to consider drafting a quarterback as another option if Flacco goes down again.
The rookie known simply as “Buck”, Allen was thrust into the spotlight down the stretch as the backfield was plagued with injuries (sense a theme here?). Allen responded with more receptions (37) than any other running back in the last seven games of the year. Hate math? Well, that is the equivalent of an 85 reception season, five more than Theo Riddick or Danny Woodhead in 2015.
What any of this means for 2016 is unclear. There are several running backs set to return (who are expanded upon below for the impatient crowd) and Allen could end up as a complementary player similar to Riddick or Woodhead. On the flip side, Allen showed improvements as a runner and only struggled against tougher run defenses (see: Seattle). If you browse my teams, you will see my affinity for receiving running backs, a perpetually undervalued commodity with a higher floor. Allen fits that description and at RB30 in the DLF ADP in January, he is well worth the chance.
The same week the Ravens lost Joe Flacco, Forsett was also injured for the year. He was unable to build on his breakout 2014, but did have at least 14 touches in every game before injury so workload was not the issue. Instead, that aforementioned toothless receiving group allowed opponents to stack the box and challenge Forsett to fight for yards. With two years left on his deal (and a $3.7 million cap hit for each season), the team has to decide if Allen is their answer or if Forsett is capable of another revival.
The season came and went quickly for Taliaferro, succumbing to season ending injury in week four. His role should be the short yardage option as Forsett and Allen lack the necessary size or inside running skills to effectively convert. Consider his 50 percent touchdown conversion rate inside the 10-yard line as evidence the team agrees with this sentiment. That means he will see little in the pass game and have a cap on total touches, largely dependent on game script. You could do worse on a deep roster, but unless the team cuts Forsett, fails to draft a receiver, and Allen goes down; his value is limited.
Why is Smith listed first? Age before beauty of course. Lost in the perils of age-based drafting is the usefulness of veterans in key roles. Witness Steve Smith, the 36-year-old who was on pace for his third highest receiving yards per game (96.7) while catching the most passes per game (6.6) of any season. While that was in only seven games, the fact he was this productive shows that there is still juice left in those legs, similar to John Salley in the movie Eddie.
Now that you have watched the clip, you know that Smith is not long for this league and those younger options will eventually take over. How soon that will be is tough to say, but it is hard to count him out and at WR90 in January’s DLF ADP data, calling him low risk is silly.
Like an oak tree, I wonder if we cut off a piece of Perriman, would we see many more rings than the listed 22 years? Bad hairline jokes aside, Perriman never had the chance to show us anything in 2015. What we do know is this: He is fast (4.30 40-yard dash), makes big plays (19.5 career yards per catch in college), and he struggles to catch the ball (53 percent catch rate in 2014). If this description sounds familiar to a past Ravens player, it may be Torrey Smith. And much like Smith, we should expect Perriman to play that downfield option for Flacco. Whether or not he can recreate Smith’s WR2 level of production as early as 2016 would provide early positive returns considering his WR38 DLF ADP.
It looked like Aiken was going to be mired on the Ravens’ bench, he ironically was one of the few receivers not hobbled by injuries in 2015. The 26-year-old responded by setting career highs across the board including receptions (75), yards (944), and touchdowns (five). If you only focus on the second half of the season when Aiken was elevated to lead receiver, the numbers are even more extraordinary (98-1202-6 pace). Considering most of this was after Flacco was injured, it adds to the impressive nature of the pace.
As a restricted free agent, Aiken will likely be retained by the team and spar it out with Smith and Perriman for starting receiver responsibilities. That is worth the WR52 spot he holds in the January DLF ADP data.
The rookie could not avoid the injured reserve, barely playing (just six targets) before a hamstring injury sidelined Waller in week seven. The Georgia Tech alum certainly has the size (6-foot-6, 238 pounds) to be a factor in the red zone with some long speed as well (4.46 40-yard dash). This receiving group has plenty of options but few answers, meaning Waller has the opportunity to see some playing time. That is worth a shot at WR100.
Here is a group reminiscent of a new restaurant: moments of promise but plenty of issues. Campanaro is the only one signed up for 2016 but is hurt by a lack of size (5-foot-9, 30” arms) and is still learning to run routes. Givens has all the physical traits but when you only catch 40 of your last 106 targets, your hands become a tough sell to coaches and quarterbacks alike. Butler was given plenty of playing time down the stretch, finishing with seven straight games of 3+ receptions. The speed is not there but he has the size (6-foot-2, 224 pounds) to be a reliable possession receiver. He is the one to buy in this group.
With the second most impressive spelling of Max, Williams had a typical rookie tight end season with its share of positives and limited overall usage. His first touchdown of the season was preceded by a zero target week and had 13 receptions in the last three games…after two straight games of zero targets. The hands proved to be solid (67 percent catch rate) while the lack of explosiveness was evident (8.4 yards per catch).
None of this is cause for concern however as tight end has proven to have the steepest production timeline of the skill positions. Add in the fact that Williams was just 21-years-old during the 2015 season and the future looks bright. Some may scoff at the TE12 ADP position but remember how muddy the tight end waters get after the top five.
Another of the wounded Ravens, Gillmore struggled with injuries all season, ultimately shutting it down due to a bad back in week 13. His full season pace would have put him at TE9 for 2015, a tricky projection given Williams’ presence and the litany of injuries to the offense. His size (6-foot-6, 260 pounds) proved to be an asset in the red zone when used, converting three of four targets inside the 10-yard line for touchdowns.
Gillmore will be fighting Williams for playing time and it is closer than most want to believe. He was a defensive end for part of his college career so he should continue to progress but the injury history is real and long so he could concede the battle before it begins.
Hip injuries and a large contract ($7.2 million in 2016) makes Pitta’s likelihood to be on the roster slim. I write this more as a reminder of his existence than an endorsement of his NFL future.