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Spotlight: Ray Rice

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 6th


Jason Wood's thoughts

As a New Jersey native, it's a pretty crappy time to turn on the TV. It seems that Hollywood - always one to jump on a theme and over saturate the market - has taken note of the success of NJ-themed shows and is spewing them out in droves now. You don't know how frustrating it is to have people picture "The Situation" or "Snooki" when they think of the Garden State. So any chance I get to highlight the accomplishments of a LEGITIMATELY impressive New Jersey native, I'm more than happy to. Which brings me to Ray Rice. Sure, Rice is technically a New York state kid (he played at New Rochelle High School), but he made his mark and first came into the national consciousness while starring at tailback for Rutgers University. Rice ran roughshod over the Big East and was selected 55th overall (2nd round) by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008.

As a rookie, Rice showed promise but was mainly a backup and 3rd down option. He appeared in 13 games, but started only 4. He logged just 107 carries, but averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per rush. Impressively, he caught 33 receptions for 273 yards in spite of limited playing time. In total, he was on the field 35% of the Ravens snaps that season. Last year, some wondered if the Ravens would be content to increase Rice's workload but still maintain a committee with Willis McGahee and FB Le'Ron McClain. Luckily, Rice's fantasy owners didn't get caught up in the ever-increasing RBBC trend and were rewarded with a tried and true breakout workhorse season.

  • 254 carries
  • 1,339 yards rushing
  • 5.3 yards per rush
  • 7 rush TDs
  • 78 receptions
  • 702 yards receiving
  • 1 receiving TD

Rice finished 2nd in the NFL in yards (2,041), and ranked 4th among fantasy RBs.

Question #1: Can Ray Rice repeat last year's gaudy reception total?
Most people look at Rice's 78 receptions and immediately think he'll regress this year. But a quick examination of the history books paints a more encouraging picture:

  • Tiki Barber has 70 receptions in 2000 and had 72 catches in 2001
  • Reggie Bush caught 88 passes in 2006 and then had 73 (in 12 games) the following year
  • Larry Centers had 70+ catches in 1994-1995-1996 and then again in 2000-2001
  • Roger Craig had 70+ catches in three straight seasons (1984-86)
  • Marshall Faulk did it for FIVE consecutive seasons (1998-2002)
  • Charlie Garner had 72 receptions in 2001 and then 91 catches in 2002
  • Ronnie Harmon did it in 1992-1993
  • Priest Holmes did it in 2002-2003
  • LaDainian Tomlinson had 79 catches in 2002 and then had a 100-catch season the following year
  • Brian Westbrook caught 77 receptions in 2006 and then 90 in 2007
  • John Williams had 70+ grabs in 1989-1990
  • Rickey Young had 88 catches in 1978 and then 72 grabs the following season

In fact, 12 of 46 RBs to ever have 70 catches in a season repeated the feat the following season. My point is not to argue that Rice will have 70+ catches in 2010, but to make it clear that it shouldn't surprise you if it does happen. Now stats aside, there are legitimate reasons to think Rice won't match last year's tally: and their names are Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth.

The Ravens have lacked a complementary receiver to Derrick Mason for years, and this year they not only found someone to help Mason, they got a Pro Bowler to step into the #1 slot...which makes Mason a very talented WR2. Stallworth comes back from a league mandated suspension, and slots as a deep threat and WR3. And according to preseason reports, all this competition has lit a fire under Mark Clayton. If Clayton has really put it all together, the Ravens have a daunting quartet of wideouts - turning a major problem area into a source of strength for Joe Flacco. As a result, Flacco should have opportunities to throw downfield more often, and won't need to dump off the ball to his tailbacks as often.

Question #2: Can Rice handle more carries?
The Ravens' RBs got 414 carries last year, and Rice netted 61.4% of them. Is it realistic to think Rice's carries could increase this year? Willis McGahee returns and it seems illogical to give him less than the 109 carries he got in 2009. He averaged 5.0 yards per rush and scored 12 times; one of the best TD% rates in the league. The X-factor is really FB Le'Ron McClain. Will the Ravens continue to give him two or three carries per game? Considering how effective he can be in short yardage, and the fact his touches keep defenses on their heels, I don't see why not. So the only way I really see Rice getting more carries is if a) McGahee gets hurt or b) the Ravens run the ball more in aggregate. But with Boldin aboard, I would argue the team is likely to pass more versus run more. And that's to say nothing about the uncertain state of the defense. With a shredded secondary, this may not be the Ravens defense everyone has come to expect. A young, strong armed QB + a deeper receiving corps + a potentially average defense means more throwing, and less running.

Question #3: Can Rice score more touchdowns?
Rice scored a respectable 8 touchdowns last year, 7 on the ground. But the Ravens had 22 rushing scores as a team, which means Rice has the opportunity to get a bigger piece of the pie. Considering he got 60% of the carries, why didn't he get 60% of the touchdowns? The answer lies at the goal line:

First Last Rush Yards 1stDns TDs
Willis McGahee 11 14 7 7
Ray Rice 7 2 1 1
LeRon McClain 2 4 2 2

Not only did McGahee get more goal-line carries, he deserved them. McGahee scored 7 TDs in 11 attempts, while Rice only got into the end zone once in 7 tries. That's an abysmal goal-line rate and HAS to improve or Rice will have a hard time breaking into double digit TDs. Now given his build, running style and ability to run inside, there's really no reason Rice's goal-line conversion rate should be THAT bad. The coaches have a proven short-yardage back in McGahee, and McClain has done well (particularly in 2008) in the role, too. I would listen very closely to what the coaches say about goal-line roles during the rest of the preseason. If there's confidence that Rice will get a larger share, we could see upside to consensus TD expectations. Otherwise, make sure you don't overestimate his scoring opportunities.

Positives

  • Rice amassed more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year and did it without having to run himself into the ground
  • Baltimore is committed to running the ball, yet the presence of Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth is going to provide fewer opportunities for defenses to stack the box
  • Rice doesn't need 20 carries a game to dominate, but has upside given hsi uncharacteristically low goal-line TD rate last year

Negatives

  • Willis McGahee was awesome as a short yardage and goal-line specialist last season, and Rice struggled; so it's not clear why those roles should change
  • The addition of Anquan Boldin, who is money in the bank going over the middle, probably robs Rice of 20-30 targets this year in the passing game
  • The Ravens defense may not have the bodies in the secondary to put up typically dominant numbers, which could force the Ravens into more pass heavy situations

Final thoughts

What's not to like about Ray Rice? For a kid who many thought was stuck in a 3-way committee this time last year, he went out and dominated as a runner, a receiver, and scored enough to finish as a Top 5 player. This year the Ravens have designs on a title run and, to do that, Rice is going to have to be a featured asset game in, game out. If you're drafting this year in the Top 4, and don't take Rice, there better be a scoring system involved that HEAVILY penalizes RB scoring. In all traditional and PPR leagues, Rice should be no worse than the 4th RB off the board. Period. End of story.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Ministry of Pain said:

The Ravens were 7th in rushing attempts last season and 25th in passing attempts. I expect them to balance this out more in 2010 with the arrival of Boldin and Stallworth to the WR corps. Baltimore will still run the ball plenty and I expect them to win a lot of games and be ahead in the 3rd and 4th quarter which should put them in position to run the ball in order to close out games, so there will still be plenty of rushing attempts.

Last season they ran the ball a total of 468 times and Rice had 254 attempts. That seems reasonable. He also had about 140 more attmpts than the next RB on the team, McGahee. No reason Rice can't get another 240-260+ attmpts which works out to about 15-17 carries a game. Both he and McGahee had 5.0+ ypc last season and the OL is solid, again no reason to project Rice for much less than 5 ypc.

Ray Rice had 7 Tds vs McGahee who had 12. Rice could see a slight uptick in his rushing Tds although it is difficult to project Tds with any type of accuracy.

Where Rice is going to have a dip most likely is in receptions. 78 was a lot last season but Baltimore had no presence at the WR2 position, however that won't be an issue this season with Boldin, Mason, and Stallworth leading the way. And Baltimore drafted not one but two TEs to go behind Heap. I remember when Steven Jackson had 90 receptions and people were projecting the same for the next season. Don't be that guy. A much more reasonable number might be somewhere in the 40-50 range.

fightingillini said:

A yardage and reception monster. Easily a top 5RB in PPR. I disagree with Ministry of Pain that Rice's recpetions will drop to 45. Rice is a main weapon in the BAL passing game, and the arrival of Boldin isn't going to change that. Boldin will take some recpetions from Rice, but I see Boldin taking more from Mason and Heap. BAL likely will pass the ball a little more in 2010 than in years past.

MrTwo94 said:

As a Rice owner in just about every league last year it was frustrating to see McGahee snagging all his TDs early in the year. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sure seemed like they fed Rice the ball in the red zone more and more as the year went on. McGahee still sniped a TD here and there but Rice was given the opportunities in the 2nd half where he was just taken out in the 1st half of the season. If this is correct and continues, I could see Rice easily getting a double digit rushing TD total.

As stated by a poster above, 78 receptions is a LOT. Rice clearly has the trust of Flacco (if for nothing else, his very high reception percentage). This number could easily go down, but Cam Cameron likes to throw to his running backs and this has been quite effective. Given the OC's preference to call these plays, Flacco's trust in Rice, and Rice's glue hands I think it is very safe to expect nothing less thabn 60 receptions next year if he plays in 16 games. 5.3 ypc will be very tough to reproduce. It is hard to expect anything more than 4.5 ypc from anyone but given the new WR weapons and the stout o-line I'm going to pencil him in for 4.8 ypc.

260 carries x 4.8 ypc = 1248 yds 10 TD + 60 rec x 9 ypr = 540 yds 2 TD

That being said, I think he's got a high ceiling. If McGahee falters or they want to phase him out for some reason, Rice could easily achieve 300 carries and 15+ TD (the Ravens were tied with Miami for the most rushing touchdowns last year - 22. The year before they had 20). His ypc could also stay above 5 ypc. Boldin and Stallworth are certainly good reasons for the defense to stay honest. And if the defense does blanket those guys, Flacco just might find Rice open quite a bit, leading to another ~80 rec season but with a higher ypr. He looks to be a very safe pick (high floor) in this improving offense but with explosion (#1RB) potential.

rzrback77 said:

Ray Rice played a significant role in my local league championship last year. However, his current ADP of RB 4 and 4th overall seems too high to me. I personally think that the Ravens will continue the increases in the passing game. Flacco is starting his third year and his improvements have been solid. From 60.0% up to 63.1% completion percentage, from 6.9 ypa up to 7.2 ypa, from 14 TDs up to 21. Then, the Ravens have added Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth to their receiving options. Flacco was injured some last year and the passing focus decreased down the stretch. I think that the Ravens move toward favoring the pass in 2010.

Less team rushes would not necessarily hinder Ray Rice, but the previous effectiveness of McGahee and McClain do give them alternates to rest him. Supposing that the Ravens are in a clock kill mode protecting leads, which I think will happen some this year, McGahee and McClain may see more chances late in the game.

When the Ravens drafted two rookie receiving TEs, the general thought was that Todd Heap was done, but I have heard stories that he may be a viable target more often in 2010, based on the offensive line improvements. If that is true, then some of the RB dump off passes could be redirected to the TE. Ray Rice caught 78 passes on 101 targets a year ago and I don't think that it is reasonable for him to be used that often again in the passing game.

Lots of opportunity for the Ravens to reduce his work-load and extend his effectiveness in my opinion to warrant caution drafting him at the number four slot. Still a very solid performer, but will be hard pressed to finish as high as he did a year ago.

TheDirtyWord said:

The Ravens are going to be an interesting team to see evolve this year with the acquisition of Anquan Boldin. Personally, I don't think this acquisition makes them more explosive in the passing game, but it does make them tougher and more dangerous in clutch situations.

As it stands though, the Ravens passed the ball on 54.4% of their offensive plays. I would not forecast a significant increase from this as they had 546 pass attempts & sacks combined in 2009. If this number crept above the 560 number, I could buy that, but not much more. Why would they...? They have a great situation at RB and a very solid offensive line.

So 2010 is about forecasting the existing re-distribution of production. When you look at Rice's 2009 season, it could parted almost down the middle by the bye week. The Ravens got off to a fast 3-0 start. This was propelled by the surprising performance of Flacco who posted the following line:

68/104/839/6/2

It was an impressive first three weeks for Flacco and it seemed to affect the way the Ravens play called the following three games, all losses. Where as Flacco averaged 34.7 attempts those first 3 games, the next 3 he averaged 40.3. While Flacco still performed well, the Ravens ran a total 53 running plays during this losing streak. It was during the bye week, where the Ravens seemed to downshift in the passing game and rely much more heavily on Rice to establish their offensive pace and tempo. Flacco would not exceed 35 pass attempts in any game the rest of the season and Rice who had averaged 12.2 carries/game prior to the bye week, averaged 18.1 the rest of the way. In addition, prior to the bye week, Rice accounted for 52% of the non-QB rushing attempts. After the bye week, that percentage increased to 62%. I suspect you'll see the Ravens be closer to that latter number in 2010, even surpassing it.

Where Rice may get some breather time is on third down, believe it or not. Now that the Ravens brought on Boldin, this might be a good time for the Ravens to periodically give Rice a breather as they won't be as dependent on him to make plays in the passing game in those situations. Plus, it would allow the Ravens to have McClain or McGahee shoulder more of the pass blocking assignments out of the shotgun saving Rice. Not saying Rice becomes a two down player, but you may see him less on that down and more on the first two.

That said, Rice is a pretty safe bet. He's a tough runner that has a superior receiving skillset, a defense that still can get after it even if it is getting long in the tooth, and an o-line that has been successful with lesser talent in establishing a run game. Expect a Top 5 season from Rice.

Brothers Mayhem said:

Everyone seems to believe that the 2010 campaign will boast an improved Flacco, an improved, if not consistent Rice and many projections have Boldin posting decent numbers. It just seems to me that we are getting into that area where there may not be enough balls to go around. If we repeat or increase Flacco's numbers and Rice's numbers, then account for Boldin to have a fantasy impact - either someone is going to be disappointed or the Ravens will be posting some monster offensive stats this year. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I can't see the Ravens evolving into an offensive juggernaut of a team such as the Saints or the Colts. At least not just yet - for that to happen, I think they must adopt a change in their offensive philosophy.

Not mention, we still have the remaining backfield, Mason, Stallworth and whichever young player that makes his stride this year to account for as well.

What % of Rice's receptions last season were designed plays and what % were check downs? With the addition of Boldin and Stallworth, along with an improved Flacco - I believe those checkdown receptions are greatly reduced. I may be whiffing here, but until we get to see Rice's role played out more than just one season, it is going to be almost impossible to know how they intend to utilize him.

The Raven staff said a lot when they made the move to bring in Boldin and Stallworth.


Ray Rice projections

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