When Terrell Suggs went down with a mysterious torn Achille’s injury in April, it was the hottest story in the NFL. Contract negotiations, a bounty scandal, and a few bone-headed mistakes (cough-Detroit-cough) have since stolen the spotlight, but the topic is still piping hot as it pertains to the Baltimore Ravens’ IDP fantasy relevance. Some reports suggest that Suggs may miss the entire 2012 NFL season, while Suggs himself recently stated that he will be suiting up no later than November. Quite the time lapse, if you ask me. What we do know is that Suggs will almost certainly miss some game time. That being the case, there are a few aspects of the situation that directly affect the fantasy relevance of the Baltimore Ravens’ IDP studs.
Who fills in for Suggs?
It is nearly impossible to replace a player like Terrell Suggs, but the Ravens have no choice but to try. As of right now, they will look to Paul Kruger, a 4th year man out of Utah, to fill the pass-rushing void. Last year, Kruger had an overall pass rushing score of +12.1, which isn’t bad considering he was usually on the field for less than half of the defensive snaps. He finished the season with 15 tackles, 5.5 sacks, as well as 18 QB hurries. So we can see that Kruger was pretty productive when given the chance to perform. Only time will tell if he can handle the constant grind of being an NFL starter and prove himself fantasy relevant.
Pernell Mcphee is another guy that should help fill the void. He is a promising 2nd year player out of Mississippi State that had the 2nd highest sack total on the team last year with 6. He, too, was used sparingly and found a way to be productive and prove that he can be effective in the NFL. He made a name for himself very early on in the season, and he will have to overcome blocking schemes specifically aimed at limiting his effectiveness. The Ravens will more than likely use him to fill Suggs’ DE responsibilities. On the other side of the defense, Alabama rookie, Courtney Upshaw, will more than likely replace the departed Jarret Johnson at strong-side LB, who signed with the San Diego Chargers as a free agent. Upshaw has the physical attributes of a fantasy star (6’2” and 272 lbs.), and is made in the same mold as the man the Ravens are trying to replace. Terrell Suggs has been quoted as saying Upshaw is “ahead of where I was” as a rookie,” and that is good enough for me. It is only a matter of time before Upshaw becomes yet another dominant facet of the Ravens’ defense. Keep an eye on him and McPhee as they could provide great value in the later rounds of your draft.
How will the Raven’s secondary respond?
An often-overlooked facet of the situation is the impact it will have on the Ravens’ secondary. It is no secret that Terrell Suggs has been one of the most relentless pass rushers in the NFL since being drafted in 2003. Last year alone, he had 14 of the Ravens’ 48 total sacks, equating to an impressive 29.1%. In comparison, no other player on the Ravens’ defense had more than 6. I think it’s safe to say that the Ravens’ pass rush will see a slight dip in the coming year. Without that extra push up front, the Ravens’ will have to rely more heavily on their secondary.
In Jeff Ratcliffe’s pre-season IDP projections, Ravens’ safety, Bernard Pollard, came in as the 7th best safety available (41st overall). Quarterbacks will have more time to throw on this year’s version of the Ravens’ defense, which may not be the best thing for Pollard’s fantasy numbers. He is a ‘run-first’ type defender who has no problem stepping into the hole and making a hit, exemplified by his overall grade of +2.4 for PFF Run Defense last season. At first glance, Pollard’s overall grade of +3.3 for PFF Pass Coverage last season seems to contradict the notion that he is not a very effective pass defender. A closer look, however, reveals the truth. After removing Pollard’s stellar scores of +1.2 (Week 7 vs. Jacksonville) and +2.4 (Week 14 vs. Indianapolis), Pollard is left with an overall score of -2.1. His range is definitely sub-par, and reports indicate that the Ravens are discussing replacing him in 3rd down passing situations. I still believe that Pollard will be a solid fantasy option. The man has a nose for the ball, and his tackling is solid enough that I think he will be fine in Suggs’ absence.
Lardarius Webb is another member of the Ravens secondary that offers some fantasy value. He is not the run-stopper that Pollard is, but he did enough to earn a PFF overall Run Defense score of +4.8 last season. He finished 2011 with a respectable 67 tackles. Webb’s pass coverage is very solid, earning an overall score of +19.0 last season. He, too, will be tested more as a result of Suggs’ injury. Unlike Pollard, however, I do not necessarily see this as a bad sign for Webb’s fantasy value. Webb is a very skilled CB that can only benefit from more opportunity. He had 3 playoff interceptions last year to go along with a career-high 5 regular season interceptions. As the season progressed, you could tell that quarterbacks were more and more reluctant to throw his way. When they did, he more than likely made them pay, allotting 20 pass deflections to go with his interception total.
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