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Back to the Future: Ray Rice

Digging up comparables from the past to try to predict Antonio Brown's future.

Without the help of a flux capacitor or Dr. Emmett Brown, this series will attempt to take a look back in time to help us predict the future dynasty results of some of our current fantasy stars. In the final installment of this 12 part series, we'll take a look at Ray Rice. Rice has been an absolute stud in PPR leagues for the past four seasons, finishing no worse than sixth in PPR fantasy points amongst running backs since 2009.

He heads into 2013 with as much uncertainty as any back that's been that successful. He saw a 25% decrease in fantasy production last year due at least partially to the emergence of Bernard Pierce. Now the team has lost Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, and there rumors that Rice may spend more than a little bit of time lining up out wide as a receiver. So what can we expect from a running back of Rice's pedigree after the dropoff he saw in 2012? Let's take a look at the comps.

The first thing that becomes clear, is that to have a drop like Rice did in year five and still have good production, you had to be a monster in year four. Maurice Jones-Drew, Ricky Williams, and Jamal Lewis were exactly that. The second thing is that Only Jones-Drew (in 2011) ever came within 20% of his fourth year performance. Since he's is the most recent comp, and the best comparison to Rice's skillset, so we'll start with him.

Like Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew is a threat in every facet of the game. He's caught 40 passes or more in 5 of his 7 seasons, and topped double digit touchdowns 3 of the last 5 years. His fourth-year breakout was largely due to a huge increase in touchdowns. In that year he scored 16 times on 365 touches. Since then he's scored 20 touchdowns on 819 touches. A large part of that decline can be attributed to the terrible offense he's played on. While we're not too sure how good the Ravens offense will be in 2013, we can be pretty sure it won't be as bad as the Jaguars have been the last two seasons. Another major reason for Jones-Drew's struggles has been his health. After missing just one game in his first four seasons, he's missed 12 in the last three. Of course, the first question that comes to mind is if he's wearing down due to overuse. Let's take a look at the age and carries for each back after their fifth season, and how they performed in the two years after that.

  AGE TOUCHES GM Y/C FP/G
Maurice Jones-Drew 26 1376 10 4.7 14.8
Ricky Williams 27 1818 4 4.4 9.9
Jamal Lewis 26 1349 1 3.5 10.1
Ray Rice 26 1528 ?? ?? ??
  • GM= Games missed to injury
  • Y/C= Yards per carry
  • FP/G= Fantasy points per game

If you've paid attention you'll notice I'm completely disregarding Ricky Williams' two year hiatus from football. I don't anticipate Rice taking a year off to learn about world religion or spending a year in the CFL. Williams had one of the strangest careers we'll likely ever come across, and Rice just isn't that type of guy. Williams took as much abuse as any back this side of Marshawn Lynch, and that may be a good reason why he went off the deep end for a while. While Rice has had more touches than any back in this article not named Ricky, those touches haven't involved the same wear and tear that Williams' did.

While it looks like Jamal Lewis had the least amount of touches, it's important to note that he missed his entire sophomore campaign with a knee injury. So, Lewis had nearly as many touches as Jones-Drew in one less season. More importantly, Lewis had 768 touches in his third and fourth seasons combined. Baltimore saw firsthand the effect that workload had on Lewis' production and they're determined to not let that happen with Rice. While Lewis was a different type of player than Rice, I do think his overuse serves as a cautionary tale to coaches and is one of many reasons why teams simply do not abuse backs like they used to. So if Rice doesn't go AWOL like Williams and he doesn't break down like Lewis, what can we expect?

OBSERVATIONS AND PREDICTIONS

While I don't expect Rice's production to fall off a cliff like Lewis' does, all three backs illustrate pretty clearly the likelihood that he ever matches his fourth season again. Maurice Jones-Drew is the best comp out of this group, and even he struggled with injuries after his sixth season. The fact that the Ravens are making an attempt to save Rice by spelling him with Bernard Pierce bodes well for Rice's longevity, but does little to ease injury concerns.

With the loss of Boldin and Pitta I anticipate Ray Rice will be the most targeted Raven in 2013. This probably means further reduction in his carries, but in PPR leagues he should more than make up for that by finishing as one of the top (if not the top) running backs in receptions. Rice should post his 5th consecutive top-6 season in PPR leagues, with a potential for a letdown in standard scoring leagues. Long term, his future is very murky. If Pierce continues to develop and the team finds a consistent target next offseason we could see Rice's value plummet. For now I'd say he's a strong hold in dynasty leagues, but I would advise shopping him if he gets off to a hot start in 2013.

Contact Heath at cummings@footballguys.com or on Twitter at @heathcummingssr


More from Heath Cummings:

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What if Percy Harvin is lost for the season? - August 18
Training Camp Believe It Or Not: Week 2 - August 13
Draft To Trade: Mid-Late Rounds - August 12
What if Jamaal Charles is lost for the season? - August 9
Player Spotlight: Frank Gore - August 8
Draft To Trade: The Early Rounds - August 8
Training Camp Believe It Or Not: Week 1 - August 4
Player Spotlight: Julius Thomas - August 3
Player Spotlight: Jordy Nelson - July 31