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Spotlight: Ray Rice

posted by Mark Wimer on Aug 6th


Mark Wimer's thoughts

The recent departure of Willis McGahee to Denver has rocketed Ray Rice up my draft board just in time for me to write this Spotlight. Here's why:

The biggest drag on the fantasy value of Rice during his two years leading the Ravens' rushing attack (during 2009 and 2010) has been the presence of Willis McGahee as the short-yardage/goal-line back.

During 2010, the Ravens' backs scored 10 rushing TDs, of which Rice handled five and McGahee handled five. Though Rice had three times as many carries as McGahee last year (308/1,223/5 rushing for Rice vs. 99/377/5 rushing for McGahee), and almost four times as many receptions (63/556/1 for Rice vs. 14/55/1 for McGahee), they both scored five rushing TDs and one receiving TD due to McGahee's presence in red zone situations. The totals were even worse (from a Rice owner's perspective) during 2009 when the team had 21 total rushing TDs scored by the running backs, with Rice handling 2.5 times as many carries and more than 5 times as many receptions than McGahee (254/1,339/7 rushing with 78/702/1 receiving for Rice, vs. 109/544/12 rushing and 15/85/2 receiving for McGahee), yet he was outscored by McGahee by six - eight total TDs for Rice vs. 14 total for McGahee.

Now that the guy who has siphoned off Rice's scoring chances over the past two years is gone to Mile High Stadium, the Ravens line up Jalen Parmele at #2 on the running back depth chart, and Vonta Leach as the lead full back (Le'Ron McClain is gone to Kansas City, so another potential TD-siphon is out of Rice's way). Parmele has a grand total of seven rushes over his three-year career in Baltimore (zero TDs), with no carries last year, while Leach has scored a grand total of two rushing TDs during his seven years in the league, with zero rushing TDs during the last two years of his stint in Houston before arriving in Baltimore. Leach is an excellent blocking back, but he isn't much of a ball carrier himself, with three rushes for three yards and two TDs so far during his career.

Ray Rice is absolutely poised to vault into the double-digits in TDs scored during 2011 as the Ravens' roster currently stands. There are just a few quality running backs left on the free agent market - assuming that Baltimore stands pat with the lineup as is, Rice has a clear road into the Top Three fantasy running backs in front of him during regular season.

Some observers are concerned that Rice saw his yards-per-carry average drop from 5.3 yards per carry during 2009 to 3.97 yards per carry during 2010. However, of the 93 times individual runners have put up 300 or more carries during the last decade, Rice's 308/1,223/5 effort from 2010 checks in at 65th in that set as concerns average yards per carry, similar to LaDainian Tomlinson's 3.94 yards per carry average during 2004 (339/1,1335/17 rushing), Rashard Mendenhall's 3.93 yards per carry during 2010 (324/1,274/13 rushing), which are the next two efforts on the list, and Stephen Davis' 3.97 yards per carry effort for Washington (332/1,318/11 rushing) in 2000, which is the record just above Rice's effort in terms of average yards per carry in a season with 300 or more carries over the last decade. The big difference in fantasy points between those four reference points? You got it, TDs scored. As I noted above, the scoring opportunities for Rice should fall more into line with the other 300+ carry efforts we see that featured a similar average yards per carry at year's end. I don't think Tomlinson's, Mendenhall's or Davis' fantasy owners were disappointed at the end of their backs' seasons noted above. Nor do I expect Rice's fantasy owners to be moaning at the end of the 2011 season.

Positives

  • Rice is now in a position to be a truly featured back, with a more proportionate number of scoring opportunities compared to his overall workload now that Willis McGahee is in Denver and Le'Ron McClain is in Kansas City
  • Rice will be just 24 entering regular season - he's entering the prime years of his career as a ball carrier
  • Rice plays for a team with a run-first-and-play-tough-defense mentality, and the departure of Todd Heap (and perhaps Derrick Mason, too) during free agency (and the lack of any reciprocal signings by the Ravens) will likely reinforce the run-first mentality of Baltimore during 2011

Negatives

  • The loss of Todd Heap and Derrick Mason may make it easier for opposing teams to stack the box during 2011
  • The Ravens could still sign a free agent to take on McGahee's old role
  • Baltimore could sink into the Chesapeake Bay forcing the Ravens to play out the season somewhere other than Baltimore (just kidding, I can't really think of a third reason to be down on Rice this year)

Final thoughts

I'd be surprised to see fewer than 14 total TDs to Rice's credit by the end of the year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see an even higher total. With turmoil on offense/possibly rookies starting at QB in Minnesota and Tennessee, and Arian Foster already nursing a sore hamstring in training camp, I think Rice is positioned to be a challenger for the #1 fantasy RB by the end of the season. I am also one of two Footballguys to rank him second on my RB board (the consensus ranking is fifth), so I am a good bit more enthusiastic than most as of the first week of August. That's fine, I expect the other Footballguys will catch up to me by the start of regular season.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

FF Ninja said:

It is hard to get excited about Rice after seeing his ypc drop from 5.3 to 4.0. I'm not sure what changed to lead to that drastic drop off, but I'd love to know. The team did seem intent on getting him the ball as his carries jumped about 20%. Until we know what caused the drop in ypc, I can only project a slight improvement for 2011 as 4.0 seems very low. The anticipated high workload helps him to maintain his mid-first round draft status. Should he get goal line carries, he could contend for #1 overall since Baltimore is just one year removed from 21 running back rushing TDs in a season.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Ray Rice was disappointing last year due to the fact he didn't score very many rushing Td's, only 5. For a top 3 pick by many, that's just not going to get it done without earning the label bust. However, he did rush for well over 1,000 yards and had more than 50 receptions, making him a solid fantasy player even in a year that he didn't produce what we thought he would.

I think Rice bounces back somewhat in the rushing TD department. The Ravens need Ray Rice to be a dominant force because in my opinion, quarterback Joe Flacco isn't the next Joe Montana and needs a strong rushing game to help get the Ravens into the Super Bowl.

fightingillini said:

Ray Rice is a fairly safe pick in round 1 in PPR leagues. You know you're going to get 60+ receptions and likely 280+ carries. If he scored more TDs, he would be right there with the CJs, ADPs and Fosters of the world. I never understood why Rice hasn't scored more TDs. With McGahee gone, I would expect an uptick in the TD department. A solid choice for #4 overall and if you can get him at pick 6 or 7, smile!


Ray Rice projections

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