A Paltry Pass Game
The Baltimore Ravens have not given us much reason to draft their wide receivers in fantasy football in recent seasons. Mark Andrews, a tight end but far and away Baltimore’s most prolific pass catcher, is the absolute focal point of this team’s aerial attack. On top of that, the overall pass attempts are limited by Lamar Jackson’s ability to scramble as well as designed runs in which he routinely gashes defenses. That combination has played a part in the Ravens having just one receiver rank in the top 36 wide receivers in PPR points per game since 2019. That was Marquise Brown in 2021, when he averaged 14.1 PPR points per game, No. 25 among receivers that season.
Hello Todd Monken
One could read that and immediately fade Rashod Bateman, Zay Flowers, and Odell Beckham Jr., but the Ravens made a change at offensive coordinator this offseason. The Ravens’ pass attack with Greg Roman as OC was lacking in volume, but also basic in scheme. That should change with Todd Monken installed as the new OC. Monken’s offense has already been making an impression with NFL analysts and should help make Baltimore’s pass attack significantly more potent. I already wrote here about how Monken can help Jackson take off in fantasy and how even Monken’s worst season in terms of pass rate as an NFL offensive coordinator is better than Greg Roman’s best season pass rate.
Picking Up the Pace
But it doesn’t stop there. Monken’s teams play with pace and tempo. Here is how Todd Monken’s teams have finished in pace from 2016 to 2019 while he was the offensive coordinator, according to Football Outsiders: tenth, sixth, seventh, and 23rd. Baltimore under Greg Roman? They were 32nd, 31st, 20th, and 25th in pace from 2019 to 2022. When a game was within six points in either direction, Monken’s teams ranked 14th, first, second, and 27th in pace. Roman’s Baltimore teams ranked 32nd, 31st, 18th, and 24th in pace in the same situations.
Not only is Baltimore likely to dial up more pass plays than they have in the last four years, they’re also going to run more plays in general. Jackson struggled to facilitate production among his receivers when he was dialing up only 27.7 pass attempts on average in his four seasons as an NFL starting quarterback. Andrews took a lot of those pass attempts, and Lamar took some attempts away as a runner. It also didn’t help matters that many of his receivers either got hurt frequently or weren’t all that good. Jackson will still run and Andrews is still the alpha, but the situation is a lot more promising for the fantasy outlook of these Baltimore receivers with Monken coordinating. Now the question is which Ravens wide receiver fantasy gamers should target.
Rashod Bateman was on his way to a breakout last season. The 25.5-percent Target Rate, 2.59 Yards Per Route Run, and 26.5-percent Air Yards Share he posted last season were all great-to-elite numbers.
Tune in on CBS!! pic.twitter.com/iGgfmfFu7w
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 18, 2022
His raw totals weren’t spectacular – he never exceeded five receptions in six games last season after doing so four times in 12 games as a rookie. But he showcased the route running that warranted his selection as a first-round pick back in 2021 and big play ability.
The problem was that injuries struck for Bateman. Again. Bateman’s rookie season was derailed by a groin injury suffered in camp. As a sophomore, Bateman suffered a foot sprain in Week 4. The Ravens rushed him back, only for Bateman to aggravate that injury further and then suffer the dreaded Lisfranc injury to the same foot. He missed the rest of the season and is currently on the Ravens’ PUP list as he rehabs that injury fully. Bateman also reported to training camp a day after camp started, which hasn’t been the first time Bateman has raised the eyebrow of the Ravens’ front office this season.
No, Bateman hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s likely frustrated his career hasn’t gotten off to the start he envisioned. The most frustrating part is we’ve seen him perform already at the NFL level. In seven games where Bateman has played at least 50-percent of Baltimore’s snaps and has played alongside Jackson, Bateman has averaged roughly 6.3 targets per game, 3.7 receptions, 66.7 yards, and 0.29 touchdowns. Those numbers come out to roughly 107 targets, 63 receptions, 1,134 yards, and five touchdowns over a 17 game season. Add the positive changes to the offense and the years of work with Jackson and things look good for Bateman in 2023 if his health is in order.
Zay Flowers was my favorite receiver to watch among the 2023 crop of rookies. He’s also someone whose game I wrote about extensively back in February. With Bateman on the PUP list to start camp, there’s an opportunity for Flowers (and Beckham) to build rapport with Jackson. It’s early in camp, but that process has already begun.
The article above notes that Jackson and Flowers connected frequently on short and intermediate routes. Flowers can win at every level of the field, so it isn’t surprising to see him slice up his defensive teammates in camp. But that’s also Bateman’s real estate and where he wins his battles. Bateman too can win deep (his touchdown against the Jets last season proves that), but he thrives closer to the sticks and Flowers is the best at winning downfield among this receiver corps. Matt Harmon of Yahoo! Sports and his incredible reception perception data backs this up.
Ready to have my heart broken by injuries (using old charts already a setup) but man I love this Ravens WR trio.
Most recent #ReceptionPerception success rates vs man coverage:
These guys can line up at all three WR spots, win at any level pic.twitter.com/XSDuw45zsw
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) April 28, 2023
I’d expect Flowers to be used downfield frequently as long as everyone is healthy in this receiver room. It’s a pretty valuable role to have, too. Jackson has ranked inside the top 20 in Deep Ball Attempts twice in four full seasons as an NFL starter. Though he’s ranked around No. 20 among quarterbacks in Deep Ball Completion Percentage, he’s ranked in the top ten in Air Yards Per Attempt in all four seasons as an NFL quarterback. Flowers’ game looks like a great match for Jackson and vice-versa.
Odell Beckham, Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr. is the wild card of the group. He’s about to turn 31 and 19 months will have passed from his last NFL game played to Week 1 of the 2023 season. He’s now the wily vet of this receiver room, but it’s worth remembering that he was still pretty darn good when we last saw him with the Rams, as per Matt Harmon’s reception perception data above. His Yards Per Route Run for the 2021 season were 1.4 on the season, but that number was closer to 1.8 after he joined the Rams midseason. He scored seven touchdowns in 11 games with the Rams, including the playoffs. He is unlikely to sustain that TD rate, but the point is that Beckham Jr. was still a productive player the last time we saw him. And he is one of the best receivers we’ve ever seen.
The question is does Beckham Jr. still have that juice after a second torn ACL. He is 31 years old and entering his ninth NFL season under contract (tenth if you include last season). Data from JJ Zachariason’s Late Round Draft Guide (both 2022 and 2023) show that age is working against OBJ. He also had the benefit of playing alongside Cooper Kupp, amidst one of the best seasons put together by a wide receiver in the history of the NFL. Maybe Andrews can pull defenders away from OBJ the way Kupp did. We’ll see. The situation is improving in Baltimore, but it still is a step down from what he had in L.A.
Take Your Pick
The answer to the question of ‘Which Ravens wide receiver should you draft’ is…ANY. None of them is all that expensive in drafts at the moment. All have upside and the opportunity cost does not offset their ADPs. Flowers’ ADP sits at 108.7 at the FFPC. Bateman’s FFPC ADP is 108.7. Beckham’s is 123.7. Flowers has leapfrogged Bateman on Underdog, too. Flowers’ ADP there is 87.8. Bateman’s ADP is 91.7, and Beckham’s is 110.6.
Beckham is a fine value and flier to take there, but the concerns are his age and explosiveness after a second torn ACL. If health permits, Bateman would be the answer for the Ravens receiver I want. He’s a complete and larger receiver who can win at all three levels and has already proven he can do it on the NFL stage. But we can’t always have nice things. Bateman is still on the PUP list and seems to be falling behind Flowers and Beckham Jr.
The Ascending Option
Things can change as camp progresses, but the concerns about Bateman’s health are enough for me to slot Flowers above Bateman as the Ravens receiver I’d want most. Rookie receivers are undervalued in ADP every season and break out at the end of their rookie seasons if they haven’t done so already. Flowers could easily do that. He’s the most dynamic and explosive receiver on the team and fits well with Jackson’s tendencies as a passer. The longer Bateman sits, the more Flowers is set up for immediate success. However, it’s important to remind ourselves again that none of these receivers is going to unseat Andrews. At the same time, all these receivers are set up for success better than any group in the Lamar Jackson era. The one with the most high-end potential is Flowers.