What if Ray Rice is lost for the season?
By Matt Waldman
September 2nd, 2012

Ray Rice is one of the few running back workhorses in the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens have no problem using him this way. Rice's between the tackles skills set up early-down play action passes on intermediate and deep routes against single coverage. On passing downs, Rice can kill defenses with his ability to turn draws, delays, and screen passes into big plays. He's a significant outlet in the Ravens passing game and generates enough yards as a receiver to make Joe Flacco a respectable quarterback by committee option. If Rice were to get hurt and miss significant time, there isn't an experienced runner on this roster with the all-around skill sets to replace him. This will make the Ravens offense more predictable based on its personnel packages and leave Flacco susceptible to aggressive defensive schemes.

BUY

Bobby Rainey, RB Watch out for Rainey, who is a lot like Ray Rice in dimensions and running style. Rainey was a workhorse at Western Kentucky similar to Rice and he is a good receiver from the backfield. He made the most of the limited opportunities that undrafted free agents generally get, and now that he has made the roster, he has the tools to surprise.

Ed Dickson, TE The Ravens tight end had strong games in 2011 against Pittsburgh (game one), Cleveland (game two), Seattle, and San Diego. With the exception of the opener against the Steelers, Ray Rice had mediocre or poor outputs on the ground in those matchups. It appears that the Ravens dial up the short passing game when the ground game falters and Dickson has enough athleticism in space to help move the chains. He'll at least make a nice matchup play for fantasy owners when the Rice-less Ravens face good rush defenses. At worst, add Dickson if you don't have to buy him outright.

HOLD

Bernard Pierce The rookie from Temple has good balance, nice burst, and potential to develop into a lead NFL back. However, his pad level as a runner and pass protector need improvement. He struggled enough in Ravens mini camp and OTAs that, unless he demonstrates dramatic improvement in pass protection that generally takes rookies a year or two to master, Pierce will be a two-down back at best. If you own Pierce before accessing this analysis, hold onto him and monitor his progress.

SELL

Joe Flacco, QB Flacco benefits from the presence of Ray Rice because the team generates intermediate and long gains in the passing game on early down play action passing. If Rice gets hurt, the Ravens will not have this luxury and opposing defenses will feel confident that it doesn't have to cheat to defend the run. This could also lead to more third and long situations where Flacco could see more pressure in the pocket, leading to mistakes and three-and-outs. However, the conventional thought among many fantasy owners is that Flacco will have to throw more often and that could be fashioned into a reasonable sales pitch for a solid tight end, No.3 receiver, or flex-play. Perhaps Flacco could warrant more if he comes off a strong performance during the game Rice gets hurt or a few weeks before opposing teams scout and adjust to the new backfield.

ADD

Dennis Pitta, TE Pitta isn't the athlete that Dickson is, but he is a more sure-handed receiver than Dickson. He is also excellent at finding the open spot in zones while working back to his quarterback. He could provide a nice safety blanket for Joe Flacco, who will face more blitzes without Ray Rice. The fact that Pitta has some skill as a blocker also helps the running game if the Ravens decide to use two-tight end sets with Rice out.

DROP

Jacoby Jones, WR Jones is a terrific athlete with skills after the catch, but his hands and routes have never been consistent enough to elevate his game to his physical promise. If the ground game fails to offer the same support to the passing game without Rice in the lineup, Jones might see more time on the bench because the Ravens could try to use more two-tight end sets to support the younger running backs while throwing more often from them.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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