Fantasy Football: Is Michael Crabtree a Fit for the Baltimore Ravens?
In the past 10 years under the leadership of head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens have been one of the most consistent franchises in football with seven winning seasons, including a Super Bowl Championship. With an established winning tradition, it was surprising to see the Ravens miss the playoffs each of the past three years. This eventually lead to several changes this past offseason, headlined by the signing of wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
Known for his elite route running, Crabtree produced underrated numbers the past three seasons, ranking in the top 10 among wide receivers in targets (392), receptions (232), and touchdowns (25). In order to return to their previous winning ways, the Ravens must find a way to continue Crabtree’s production and add a jolt to their inconsistent offense.
Let’s take a look at some key factors that could determine what type of impact Crabtree could potentially have in Baltimore’s offense.
Marty Mornhinweg’s Offensive Scheme
Since taking over offensive coordinator responsibilities in 2016, Marty Mornhinweg’s strategy has shown a tendency to lean towards the short pass, which is a great fit for Crabtree’s game.
According to NFLsavant.com, in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, 84% of Baltimore’s pass attempts were short passes to the left, right, or middle. Only 14.94% of Joe Flacco's passes traveled at least 16 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, ranking 40th out of 45 quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts. Crabtree added 0.26 Net Expected Points per target on passes within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage in 2017, much higher than the league-wide mark of 0.14.
Yes, short passes are somewhat boring, but in terms of potential opportunity, Crabtree should have his chance to be the go-to possession receiver for this offense.
Throughout his tenure with the Oakland Raiders, Crabtree was consistently the primary receiving option in the red zone. He averaged 16 red-zone targets per season in a 3-year span and never produced fewer than 8 touchdowns per season.
In terms of physical size -- which is always a useful component in the red zone -- Crabtree is by far the biggest receiver among the three top receivers on the depth chart at 6’1", 215 pounds compared to Snead at 5’11", 195 pounds and Brown at 5’10" and 179 pounds.
Strength of Schedule
Baltimore's 2018 schedule gives an outward appearance of being favorable for fantasy production as it is ranked 21st most difficult in the league, based on opponent record in 2017, but a deeper look into the opposing defenses the Ravens will face gives reason for skepticism.
In defensive ranking versus wide receivers in 2017 (based on fantasy points allowed), the Ravens will face 5 of the top-10 ranked teams in the Cincinnati Bengals (3rd), Denver Broncos (4th), Buffalo Bills (6th), Los Angeles Chargers (9th), and Pittsburgh Steelers (10th).
Two matchups that appear to be favorable are the Tennessee Titans (21st) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (30), but it is important to keep in mind the Titans added cornerback Malcolm Butler in the offseason to aid their secondary. Although Crabtree has plenty going in his favor, this is one area for at least some concern.
What to Expect in 2018
Even with the schedule concerns, Crabtree looks like a good fit for the Ravens' offense with their tendencies to lean on the short pass and Crabtree’s established track record as a red-zone threat. That should be a plus for fantasy.
It might be overly optimistic to project a noticeable increase from Crabtree’s average totals as a Raider, but a return to around 75 to 80 receptions, 800 to 900 receiving yards, and 6 to 8 touchdowns is a realistic outcome for this upcoming season. numberFire's models see exactly that, pegging Crabtree for 75 receptions for 888 yards and 5.9 touchdowns in his first season with the club.
With Crabtree’s average draft position at the beginning of the sixth round in 12-team, PPR drafts, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, Crabtree could be a potential undervalued asset. He's not a slam dunk, but there are enough positives here to justify investing at that cost.