The 2021 NFL Season is upon us and the Music City Drive In has you covered. We’ll be previewing all 32 teams, as well as our picks for award winners and playoff participants each day through Monday, September 6. Check back daily at 4 p.m. EST for each new piece in our preview series.
Lamar Jackson returned from an MVP 2019 to lead another strong Baltimore team to an 11-5 record. His numbers understandably regressed and so did those of the much-anticipated pass-catchers Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. A habitual playoff contender, Baltimore was overshadowed by Pittsburgh’s impressive opening win streak (11 games) and Cleveland’s resurgence to relevancy. Nonetheless, Baltimore garnered an impressive road playoff win in Nashville before coming up empty against Buffalo in the second round.
With a franchise QB and several young offensive assets in tow, Baltimore has transitioned from a slow and methodical run-heavy approach during the Joe Flacco and Ray Rice era, to that of a swift powder-keg. This team has a versatile talent group across the board, with an offensive ceiling that could meet the demands of any matchup.
As the passing efficiency regressed for Jackson, the need for added talent to the receiving corps was apparent. Unable to utilize Brown and Andrews to the full extent of their strengths, Baltimore needed viable passing game threats to spread coverage thin across the board. Moving on from Willie Snead and diminishing the roles of alternate receivers Myles Boykin and Devin Duvernay, Baltimore acquired Sammy Watkins via free agency and Rashod Bateman via the NFL draft (No. 27 overall). Watkins provides elite role player capabilities but has proven to be a bust for fantasy purposes. Bateman, however, had impressive metrics at the University of Minnesota with an 18.8 breakout age and college dominator score of 40 percent (Player Profiler), all while playing with an upperclassmen NFL WR in Tyler Johnson. He has the versatility to be a constant threat alongside Andrews in the Red Zone, which can be key to creating 1 on 1 opportunities across coverage to exacerbate Baltimore’s athletic advantage.
Baltimore also lost another veteran in the run game with the departure of Mark Ingram. This eliminates the crowded backfield and should provide J.K. Dobbins more opportunity to approach the massive fantasy expectations associated with his 2020 draft capital and college production.
Although Dobbins will still cede touches to Gus Edwards, he will primarily be impacted by Jackson’s rushing and 15.53 percent target rate to the RB position (C.D. Carter). Do not make the mistake of lumping Dobbins in with fellow sophomore RBs Antonio Gibson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and D’Andre Swift, as his situation and opportunity are not equitable. Temper expectations and tie him closer to the David Montgomery, Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders grouping on draft day.
As the TE market pushes upward with the sublime perception of Kyle Pitts, the real opportunity for unheralded high-end TE value lies with Andrews. Despite Jackson’s diminished RB target share, he nonetheless delivers an astounding 35.12 percent of passes to the TE position (C.D. Carter)! Ideally, an improved WR group should flatten this percentage to a degree. However, this flattening can be mitigated by a likely increase in pass volume. Andrews has demonstrated his TD prowess and target share to provide a substantially high floor. This floor alone can reasonably sustain his draft value all while freerolling the potential increase in pass volume and TD receptions. Pass on Pitts, act on Andrews!
Circa Sports indicates a win total of 10.5 with a heavy lean toward the over (-145)*. Baltimore appears to be the strength of the division alongside
Pittsburgh Cleveland? Pittsburgh has sunk into the Ben Roethlisberger retirement spiral and Cincinnati is still manifesting its identity as a legitimate football team. The nod for the division title goes to Baltimore as the most versatile team on both sides of the ball. Shooting high, expect them to reach 13-4 and begin to redraw the blueprint for deploying the hybrid QB offense.
(*Circa Sports Season Win Total as of 7/25/21)
Jason Astarita (@AstaritaJason) is a professional in the sports gambling industry. He has an MS in Psychology (Industrial and Organizational) from Southern New Hampshire University and completed his undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of San Diego. His passion for fantasy sports is over a decade old, but has recently been theorizing on the novel format of Superflex Best Ball in the Dynasty Fantasy Football arena. #superbestball