In a wild series of events, the Ravens have voided the contract of free agent wide receiver Ryan Grant due to a failed physical, only to bring in newly-on-the-market Michael Crabtree, signing him to a three-year deal worth $21 million with $11 million in guarantees.
The stunt that the Ravens pulled with Grant is likely to deter players from talking with teams during the legal tampering period, because it’s clear as day what happened here. The backlash from the Grant contract (4 years, $29 million) was massive, so once Crabtree was said to be released, they used a failed physical as their way out. Dr. James Andrews, Grant’s agent, and Grant himself have said he could play a football game today and that there are zero health concerns. Whatever the case, Crabtree is now a Ravens wide receiver and we need to discuss what it means for fantasy football.
The pass-catchers look quite different than they did a year ago in Baltimore, as Crabtree will join John Brown and Chris Moore as the starting trio of wide receivers. The Ravens released Jeremy Maclin earlier this week and seem to be okay with losing Mike Wallace in free agency. All in all, the Ravens lost 197 of their wide receiver targets from last year. On top of that, the Ravens seem to be moving on from tight end Ben Watson, who commanded 79 targets himself in 2017. Knowing the surrounding talent, Crabtree is locked in as the top receiver for Flacco.
When looking at the history of Joe Flacco with his wide receivers, we’re forced to keep our expectations somewhat in check. He’s now been in the league for 10 years, yet he’s never had a wide receiver total more than 137 targets. That’s pretty significant because Flacco has thrown the ball over 610 times in two different seasons. He’s simply not going to consistently pepper one receiver with targets. This is not great for Crabtree, who saw 145 and 146 targets in his first two seasons with the Raiders. He compiled 1,925 yards and 17 touchdowns in those two seasons but finished with just 618 yards and eight touchdowns on 101 targets in 2017.
On top of the targets dropping from where they were during the golden years in Oakland, Crabtree is also going to see a decline in red zone targets. During his three years with the Raiders, Crabtree saw a total of 50 red zone targets, including 23 of them in 2016. By comparison, the Ravens wide receivers as a team totaled 29 red zone targets last year. In the data we have available (three years worth), Flacco hasn’t targeted a wide receiver more than 12 times in the red zone. Still, it’s the best part of Crabtree’s game, so I’d expect them to give him a slight bump than where others have been. But how many touchdowns can we realistically expect when Flacco has thrown more than 22 touchdowns just twice in his 10-year career, and hasn’t topped 20 in the last three years? It’s why there has never been a Flacco receiver who finished better than the No. 17 wide receiver in fantasy (Derrick Mason in 2009).
We can talk about the lack of targets or dip in red zone opportunities, but here’s the main reason I cannot get too excited about Crabtree in a Ravens uniform. His quarterback’s biggest strength is throwing the deep ball, and that’s something Crabtree has never been known for. He’s an underneath possession receiver who has averaged 11.9 yards per reception over the course of his career. In fact, he’s averaged less than 11.5 yards per reception in each of the last four seasons. His skill-set simply doesn’t align with Flacco’s.
It’s not to say that Crabtree won’t be useable in fantasy, because he will. But we’re here to talk about realistic expectations based on the team he was just thrown into. There are still many factors to be decided. Do the Ravens draft a wide receiver (maybe Calvin Ridley) at No. 16? Do they add a tight end, as they’ve been rumored to be interested in newly-available Eric Ebron? These are all factors that will need to be baked into Crabtree’s projection, but for now, he’s the clear alpha-dog. His expected targets should wind up somewhere in the range of 115-125, so combining that with a career catch-rate of roughly 60 percent and just under 12 yards per catch, we’re looking at 69-75 receptions for 820-900 yards. Again, these are not numbers that we can properly rely on, as it’s his first year in a new offense with a new quarterback. Realistically, Crabtree’s floor should be around 65 receptions for 800 yards and five touchdowns. That would put him squarely in the middle of the WR3 conversation, though he doesn’t have the upside of some drafted in that range.
Miss any of the other big-name free agent signings? We’ve got you covered with the links below.
Allen Robinson to the Bears
Sammy Watkins to the Chiefs
Kirk Cousins to the Vikings
Case Keenum to the Broncos
Trey Burton to the Bears
Jimmy Graham to the Packers
Dion Lewis to the Titans
Carlos Hyde to the Browns
Jerick McKinnon to the 49ers
Jordy Nelson to the Raiders