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Player Spotlight: Ray Rice

A detailed look at Ray Rice's fantasy prospects for 2013

No running back has been better than Ray Rice in PPR leagues since he became a starter in 2009. Rice has finished in the top five in fantasy points all four seasons, including a first place finish (in both standard scoring and PPR leagues) in 2011. Over that timeframe he's averaged more than 1800 total yards, nearly 70 catches, and 10 touchdowns per season. Those are not only elite running back numbers...those are top of the elite tier numbers. Like any running back though, Rice has his question marks heading into 2013. The first would be just how effective the Ravens offense can be with Anquan Boldin gone and no proven #2 on the roster. The second revolves around Bernard Pierce and how many carries he'll snipe from Rice in 2013.

The departure of Anquan Boldin means the Ravens will likely rely even more on Rice in the passing game in 2013. Over the past two seasons, Anquan Boldin has averaged more than 125 targets a game. Certainly Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta will gobble up some of those targets, but the Ravens other options in the passing game are less than stellar. At the minimum that should mean Rice should approach the 112 targets he saw in 2011, and I think 120 is more likely. In his career, Rice has caught more than 72% of the passes intended for him. Even if you assume an uptick in targets will lower that percentage, 75 receptions is not out of the question.

The effect of Bernard Pierce on Ray Rice may be being exaggerated. For one thing, 26 year-old running backs that have produced the way Rice has don't really have to worry about how good the backup running back is. Pierce was excellent in his rookie campaign, averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 108 totes, and popular opinion is that number increases in 2013. However, with the options the Ravens have at receiver, it's conceivable that both Rice and Pierce see more carries as the team focuses more on the running game. We should expect to see no less than 250 carries from Rice in 2013. with a possibility for 265+.

What we may see instead of a decreased workload is a different type of workload. With Rice telling the Baltimore Sun that he wants to be more involved in the passing game, and the aforementioned loss of Anquan Boldin, I could definitely see a larger focus on getting Ray Rice the ball in the open field where he excels. This should lead to an increase in yards per touch for Rice, who saw his yards per carry drop to 4.4 last season and his yards per catch fall to a career-low 7.8.

POSITIVES

  • Rice has been the best pass-catching back in the league for the past four seasons and there's no reason to think that won't continue
  • The departure of Anquan Boldin means there are more targets to be had in the Ravens' passing game
  • Rice's receving ability and lack of injury history give him a higher floor than most RB1s

NEGATIVES

  • Bernard Pierce was excellent as the Ravens second option in 2012, and even Rice himself seems okay with Pierce cutting into his workload
  • Rice's yard per rush and catch were both down last year; if that trend continues,it will be difficult for him to post elite running back numbers

PROJECTIONS

Projections Rush RuYds RuTD Rec ReYds ReTD
Heath Cummings 260 1270 8 70 570 1
David Dodds 250 1075 7 59 472 2

FINAL THOUGHT

Rice is an elite running back in the middle of his prime on a team that will need him in every facet of the game. Rice should challenge his career high in both targets and receptions, putting him in the top-tier of running backs in PPR leagues. The Ravens may very well see Benard Pierce as a way to extend Rice's career, but that doesn't necessarily mean significantly less touches for Rice, just a different, more productive, type of touches. Do not hesitate to snag Rice at his current ADP of 1.5.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Scott Pianowski at Yahoo writes:

You want your feature back to be young and durable and that's Rice. He's still just 26 and he's checked in for a full 16 games in four straight seasons. He piles up the touchdowns (25 the last two years), he rolls up the yards from scrimmage (average of 1877 the last four seasons), and he catches the ball as well as any running back (278 grabs since 2009). What else could you ask for? The volume is here and the production is here.

Read more here.

Shehan Peiris at Bleacher report writes:

Rice is still only 26 years old, but if the Ravens want to preserve him for the rest of his contract it would be in their best interest to decrease his workload. Expect Pierce to get a bigger chunk of the workload this year as the Ravens shift towards having what could be a scary one-two punch at running back.

Read more here.


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