We’ll go out on a limb today and say that Joe Flacco has never had a better receiving group than he will have in 2014. We have the utmost respect for guys like Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason, but the depth of pass catchers currently on the Ravens roster is simply unparalleled (in Flacco’s career at least). Adding Owen Daniels and Steve Smith to the already solid combination of Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Marlon Brown gives Flacco more weapons than he’s ever had.
In today’s NFL, teams are stacking the field with big, fast cornerbacks and many teams have at least three quality ones to pair with a safety or two. This evolution comes as offenses have increased their passing percentages and are spreading the field with more receiving options. Most teams have 3-5 quality pass catchers that give quarterbacks a ton of options once the ball is snapped.
So we know that Joe Flacco is going to have lots of options this season when it comes time to make his throws, but who will be the main beneficiary? This is a complicated and much debated question. Historically, possession receivers and tight ends have been among Flacco’s favorite targets, at least in regards to volume. 2013 was a bit different however, after Flacco lost Boldin to free agency and Pitta to injury.
In 2012, Flacco completed 317 passes and had 531 attempts. In 2013 he had a total of 362 completions out of 614 attempts. Here is how each season breaks down by target:
Torrey Smith has had a ton of targets the past two seasons as the Ravens featured the deep ball a lot. Boldin and Pitta were both sorely missed last season and the lack of a viable middle-of-the-field threat is most likely what contributed to Flacco’s drop in completion percentage between 2012 and 2013. Along the with lack of a viable running game and offensive line, of course.
Can we expect Steve Smith to mirror the production that Boldin had in 2012? They are, after all, similar players. It’s doubtful, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come close. The only thing keeping Smith from hitting 100+ targets is the number of options around him. We wouldn’t expect Flacco to throw the ball 600+ times this season either, as the Ravens are looking to transition back to a run heavy offense.
Dennis Pitta is going to be a heavily featured player in Gary Kubiak’s offense, which historically peppers tight ends with targets. Owen Daniels played that role for Kubiak in Houston and routinely saw heavy targets, even leading the team in 2011. Pitta has been lining up all over the field in Ravens camp and is going to see a lot of snaps, which will lead to a lot of targets.
Torrey Smith looks like a safe bet considering the numbers above, but the new offense doesn’t feature the deep ball as much as the previous offense. Whether or not this affects T. Smith in a big way depends on how much he improves his route running skills this offseason. If he can continue to become a more complete receiver, he will be a threat to lead the team in targets and completions.
Ultimately it is a tough decision, but we tentatively expect Torrey Smith to lead the Ravens in targets this coming season. Even though Kubiak is famous for his tight end friendly offense, he is also famous for leaning on his number one receiver (i.e. Andre Johnson). Combine that with Smith’s contract year, his improved route running, and his annual progression and it looks like 2014 will be his year to prove the naysayers wrong.
Who do you think will lead the Ravens in targets and receptions in 2014?