Dennis Pitta Injury - 2013 Fantasy Football Impact
According to Adam Schefter at ESPN, Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta will miss the entire 2013 season after surgery due to a dislocated hip.
That means that quarterback Joe Flacco will be without his two favorite targets, Anquan Boldin and Pitta, for the season. The reigning Super Bowl MVP targeted these two pass-catching threats a total of 198 times last season. With Boldin moving on to San Francisco, it appeared that Pitta was fully prepared to take over as Flacco’s favorite target in the passing game. The two have a great off-field relationship and seemed destined to have that extend onto the football field.
Pitta, a fourth-round pick from BYU in 2010, recorded 61 receptions and seven scores a season ago. Those numbers were good enough to make him the seventh-ranked fantasy tight end in standard redraft leagues. Overall, Pitta ranked 12th among Pro Football Focus experts prior to this unfortunate injury. Any way you put it, Pitta was going to be counted on to produce a great deal this season.
That’s not going to happen.
How does this injury impact the Ravens from a fantasy impact? That’s the million-dollar question right now. Let’s take a gander at how returning Baltimore pass catchers fared in its Super Bowl-winning campaign last season.
Even with Pitta in the fold, Baltimore was lacking pass-catching options for Flacco. Take him out of the equation, and there are a whole lot of unknown commodities here. As you can see above, all of Baltimore’s returning tight ends and wide receivers outside of Torrey Smith seem to be wildcards at this point. Even Smith, who had a solid sophomore campaign, caught less than 50 percent of the passes thrown in his direction in 2012.
Ed Dickson suffered through an injury-riddled 2012 campaign that saw him miss three games. His production decreased in every single major statistical category from his sophomore year. His targets decreased from 85 in 2011 to 31 this past season. In addition, Dickson failed to catch a single touchdown in 2011 after putting up five scores the previous year.
You can expect the number of targets Dickson receives to mirror 2011 when Baltimore begins its quest to repeat as champions against the Denver Broncos in September. If true, he could be a really solid under-the-radar fantasy option.
Running back Ray Rice returns as Baltimore’s leading receiver, at least in terms of catches. It’s hard to say one way or another whether his impact in points per reception (PPR) leagues will increase with both Pitta and Boldin out of the mix, but common sense seems to indicate it will. He is averaging nearly 70 receptions per season since the start of 2009. You can fully expect those numbers to be duplicated, or to even increase this upcoming season.
While second-year running back Bernard Pierce promises to see more rush attempts this season, he’s a non factor in PPR leagues. The talented youngster caught just seven passes as a rookie and averaged a lowly 6.3 receptions in three seasons at Temple.
Rookie H-back Kyle Juszczyk did catch 22 touchdowns during a four-year college career at Harvard. Depending on whether Baltimore brings Vonta Leach back (rumors suggest he might re-sign soon), the small-school rookie could make an impact in 2013. That being said, he is pretty much a fantasy non factor in standard redraft leagues.
Baltimore’s depth chart at tight end after Dickson includes: Alex Silvestro, Matt Furstenburg, and Billy Bajema, who have combined for a total of 38 NFL receptions. It goes without saying that none of them are going to make an impact in the pass-catching category this season.
If Flacco has to depend more on returning wide receivers, who received only 33 percent of his targets last season, he’s going to be in big trouble.
Despite making two huge plays in the playoffs last season, Jacoby Jones has never caught more than 51 passes in a season. Tandon Doss, David Reed, and Deonte Thompson combined for just 26 targets a season ago. One of them will have to step up if Flacco is going to continue the hot run we saw through the postseason last year. Tommy Streeter has some upside in his second season out of Miami, but he is a long shot for playing time.
We are more likely to see a run-based attack under offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. As a team, Baltimore passed the ball 56 percent of the time in 2012. Don’t expect those numbers to remain anywhere near the same this season. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those numbers reverse in 2013. If that’s the case, Flacco’s fantasy value promises to plummet leading up to the start of the 2013 regular season. He has never been a solid QB1 option, but other quarterbacks with higher upsides might end up overtaking him in terms of average draft position (ADP) in the coming weeks.
You combine a lack of receiving targets with a decrease in pass attempts, and the writing is on the wall.
As much as Boldin’s trade to San Francisco might have hurt Baltimore on the field, the loss of Pitta to injury for the season will impact its overall ability to put up solid fantasy numbers in the passing game. This starts and ends with Flacco, who hasn’t exactly been a bona fide fantasy option in previous seasons.
The larger impact here will be to both Rice and Pierce, Baltimore’s strong two-headed running back monster. Rice averaged just 16 rush attempts per game in 2012, his lowest figure since his sophomore campaign. Meanwhile, Pierce averaged about seven attempts per outing as a rookie. Despite a plan that includes a more equal distribution of attempts, Rice will average more than the 16 he put up last year. This coupled with his ability to catch the ball and an increase in targets leads me to believe that Rice will be darn near a top-five fantasy running back.
Pierce should also see his workload increase from his rookie campaign. If the talented youngster averages between 12 and 13 attempts per game, he should make an impact as a flex option in non-PPR leagues.
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