Very Deep Sleeper: Micheal Campanaro (Ravens)
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A few blurbs have come out about Ravens WR Michael Campanaro having a greater role in the offense this season…and, likely, no one cared in fantasy-land when they saw said blurb. Why should you? A seventh-round pick of the Ravens in 2014 who has done almost nothing of acclaim in the NFL. He was released right before the 2016 season, picked up again by the team a few months later, and placed on the practice squad. No other NFL team seemed to care about Campanaro’s availability or future when given the chance in 2016 either. So why should fantasy GMs care?
We’re going to retrace Campanaro’s college and pro career to put forth the ‘Very Deep Sleeper’ argument for him, but first, there’s something odd that happened to him in 2016 that should hold your attention, so we’ll start there.
Campanaro was cut 9/12/2016 (had a nagging injury ahead of 53-man rosters being finalized). He was brought back to the team 10/8/2016 and added to the practice squad. He had three years of experience with this team, so when injuries hit late December 2016, Campanaro was added to the roster and played in Week 15. He played a few snaps in Weeks 15, 16, and 17. He was thrown the ball just one time in those three games (no catches), but, oddly, in each of the three games, he received a carry. A wide receiver designed running play. He gained 39 yards on his first run, 23 yards on his second, and 10 yards on his third – three carries for 72 yards…24.0 yards per carry. A rather strange stat line for a wide receiver. A pretty productive (or lucky) stat line at that in his limited touches.
I remember watching these running plays late in the 2016 season (because I’ve been a fan of Campanaro since scouting him for the NFL Draft in 2014 coming out of Wake Forest) and wondering – “Why doesn’t this anemic Ravens offense give the guy a second rushing attempt in a game?” If you ran an offense that was floundering and you gave a backup wide receiver running plays (which must mean you see something in him) and he ran for 10+ yards every time he touched it wouldn’t you try a second time in a game, just to see? Not NFL Coordinators—too logical. Still, Campanaro’s running prowess in 2016 further piques my interest.
I’m sure you’re really excited about Campanaro up to this point – a wide receiver who had no catches in his brief time in 2016, but did run the ball for 24.0 yards per carry but would only get one carry a game. It better be a helluva one carry per game to matter in 2017, right?
There’s more to the Michael Campanaro story than leading the league in rushing yards per carry in 2016.
In 2013, his senior season, Campanaro was the main wide receiver weapon for Wake Forest. He was on his way to possible Heisman consideration out of nowhere. Through Wake’s first seven games of 2013, Campanaro averaged 8.1 catches, 113.1 yards receiving, and 0.9 receiving TDs per game. He had 10 or more catches in a game in four of those seven games and 75 or more yards in every game. Campanaro was on fire.
You might be wondering if those output numbers were the result of the typical gimmicky college offense.
Campanaro’s first seven games of 2013 represented a heavy percentage of the Wake Forest passing game. How much of a share did he represent? Through seven games in 2013, 45% of all the completed passes for Wake Forest were caught by Campanaro. 50% of the passing yards were gained by Campanaro. 55% of the TD passes were caught by Campanaro. On one of the weakest passing games in the NCAA in 2013 – with everyone knowing Campanaro was the primary/only real target – he put up numbers you’d see from a wide receiver from East Carolina, Texas Tech, or Baylor. It was the opposite of a high-volume, gimmicky offense. Campanaro drew major blood from a stone in the 2013 Wake Forest passing game.
Why did I limit all these Campanaro numbers to the first seven games of 2013? In their eighth game, Campanaro broke his collarbone and was out for the rest of the season. A special season under development all gone in a snap.
Campanaro was a Senior Bowl and NFL Combine invitee despite the injury taking him off the radar a bit. At the NFL Combine, Campanaro ran a 4.46 40-time with a stellar 4.01 shuttle and 6.77 three-cone. He also shrugged off the broken collarbone by putting up 20 reps on the bench, fantastic for his size (5′9″/192). He also jumped with an impressive 39.0″ vertical. There was a lot to love about Campanaro heading into the 2014 NFL Draft, but injuries in his junior (broken hand) and senior (broken collarbone) year pushed him to the seventh round.
Seventh-round picks are not a sure thing to make an NFL roster, but Campanaro did and got his first target in Week 6 of his rookie season (2014), a 19-yard TD catch. Two weeks later, Campanaro caught three passes for 40 yards and took over the punt return job. True to form, just as he was about to surge ahead in his career, Campanaro got hurt and then missed most of the rest of the 2014 season. An opportunity lost.
In 2015, Campanaro came into the season healthy as the team’s primary kick and punt returner and rotational No. 3-4-5 wide receiver. In Week 4, he had his first rushing TD (nine yards) and then it happened again. Four weeks into the season, he was dinged up and out of action. He missed the rest of the season. He returned for the playoffs, and just when he seemed to be fading away in the NFL Campanaro had four catches (a career high) for 39 yards in a playoff war against New England. Campanaro re-reminded the coaches of the impact he could have as a sure-handed, Julian Edelman 2.0 type of wide receiver.
Of course, in 2016, Campanaro got hurt again in the preseason unable to capitalize on the great playoff flash he had the prior season. The Ravens had to cut him. They brought him back later, and he had all that rushing activity previously mentioned but no real targets.
Enter 2017. Campanaro has spent three seasons with the Ravens, an unfulfilling three seasons but also with flashes of hope. Just when he’s about to launch, something fails him with a nagging injury, but he always fights his way back. The Ravens are not walking away from him. In April, they signed him to a $2M, one-year deal for 2017. He is listed No. 3 WR on the current depth chart.
Think of the opportunity Campanaro now has if he can stay healthy. Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman are the listed No. 1 and 2 starters. Wallace is a deep ball threat and Perriman is a little of everything but more a medium/deep guy. Campanaro truly is Julian Edelman for the Ravens. Campanaro and Edelman are like twins in size/speed/high-end agility measurements only Campanaro is the slightly better athlete all-around and unfortunately the more often injured one. Campanaro was a little like Edelman the QB in college – completing 6-of-7 passes for 4 TDs/1 INT in his college career on top of being an ace wide receiver.
The No. 3 WR on the Ravens doesn’t seem very fantasy-enticing, I get it, but what has Flacco done the past few years? He’s throwing the ball shorter and safer. Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta were more targeted than any of the other options, and now both reliable targets are gone for 2017. Campanaro provides that short, underneath outlet for Flacco but has the added bonus of a guy who can be amazing after the catch. Remember those rushing numbers and note he’s been a kick and punt returner for the Ravens and the Demon Deacons.
Campanaro has big, trustworthy 9.8″ hands. He’s strong/tough. He has NFL speed and elite NFL agility. He’s an asset waiting to be unlocked. The Ravens continue to stick by him. 2017 may finally be the payoff if Campanaro can stay healthy, and that’s been the big if. He could be a shock PPR play, a 5-6-7 catch a game guy IF he can stay on the field.
Maybe, he’ll just lead the league in yards per carry? Who knows…
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