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Mason returns to Ravens

3/11/2010

Guess who's coming (back) to dinner.

Derrick Mason, whose faux retirement last winter presaged an impressive 73-catch, 1,028-yard, seven-touchdown season at age 35, has re-upped with the Baltimore Ravens, throwing a wrench into Anquan Boldin's plans for world domination.

You'll recall a week ago, the Ravens traded draft picks for Boldin, presumably establishing him as their new no-brainer No. 1 wideout. And earlier, they'd signed speedy Donte' Stallworth to play deep threat in their eighth-run-heaviest-in-the-NFL attack. There didn't seem to be much room left for old reliable Mason, a great route runner with tremendous hands, but nobody's idea of either a big target or a field stretcher.

Now that Mason is, in fact, back in Charm City, the way targets and receptions will shake out is very much up for grabs. The guy with the worst track record of these three receivers is Stallworth, who missed the '09 season entirely because of his jail time related to a traffic fatality, and who had injury troubles throughout much of his prior career. So I suppose it might be tempting to say that Boldin and Mason, two of the tougher and steadier receivers in the NFL, could assume the No. 1 and 2 wideout roles for QB Joe Flacco. However, there's a fair amount of, shall we say, duplication of effort between those two veterans. Neither has downfield speed. Each is a fine route runner and can go over the middle. Boldin is probably the better red-zone threat. Mason is probably the more durable player. But if the Ravens line up with those two guys on either side of their offensive formations, it'll give opposing defenses license to play eight men in the box. They really do need a deep guy to make the threat of their passing game scary, yet Stallworth is the furthest thing from a sure thing that they've got.

Perhaps an early-season injury will make all this a moot point. But for as long as everyone's healthy, I have to say that I think Boldin's value suffers a bit (I lowered him three spots on my wide receiver list, from No. 16 to No. 19), and Mason's value suffers quite a bit (I lowered him nine spots, from No. 29 to No. 38) compared to what I hoped it might be if he'd signed as a no-questions-asked top target with another team. I still have Stallworth only at No. 77, because I won't be fooled by him again. But I don't really think the reacquired Mason will take many targets away from Stallworth. It's Boldin's time Mason will cut into.

Finally, a note about Flacco. Whether Mason is a No. 2 or a No. 3 receiver, it's clear the Ravens are serious about presenting Flacco with better targets than they've given him his first two NFL seasons. I'm still not willing to call him a no-brainer starter in 10-team fantasy leagues just yet, but I did move him one spot higher on my quarterback list, from No. 14 to No. 13, past Matt Ryan, because Flacco's weapons now are clearly superior. Flacco is a high-upside No. 2 signal caller, with the potential for more.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.