Ray Rice has established himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL over the last few years, with at least 1,100 rushing yards and more than 60 receptions in each of the last four seasons as the clear-cut workhorse for the Baltimore Ravens. But the emergence of Bernard Pierce late last season has led to speculation about a reduction in Rice’s workload, which suddenly becomes a concern for fantasy football owners. Is it much ado about nothing, or is Rice’s fantasy stock ready to fall dramatically in 2013?
Rice is still just 26 years old and has not missed a game since his rookie season in 2008, but with more than 1,500 career touches (1,216 carries, 311 receptions) it makes sense for the Ravens to consider reducing his workload a bit going forward. But with the offseason trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers, Rice is now clearly the most proven offensive player the Ravens have and he should remain the centerpiece of the team’s offense.
Pierce became a force toward the end of his rookie season in 2012, with two 100-yard rushing games in a three-game stretch (including Baltimore’s Wild Card Round win over the Indianapolis Colts). He finished the season (including the postseason) with 147 carries for 734 yards, but he had just one touchdown. Pierce showed a nose for the end zone in college, with 53 rushing touchdowns over three seasons at Temple, so I think it’s possible Rice cedes some short yardage and goal line opportunities to him this season.
Even with this recent negative buzz, Rice is still a top-five running back in all fantasy leagues. The prospect of losing scoring chances puts a ceiling on his value in touchdown-heavy leagues, but his role as a pass catcher keeps him an elite option in PPR formats.
I’m generally not a big believer in having to draft an elite running back’s primary backup, but in this case Pierce is shaping up as a must-own for those who use their first-round pick on Rice. If his role as a goal line vulture comes to fruition as I predict it could, Pierce may carry some value on his own as a weekly flex option in 12 and 14-team leagues.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.