Ray Rice has been one of the hottest featured backs in fantasy football since he took over the full time job for the Baltimore Ravens. Heading into last year there was some concern that he was starting to put on high mileage, with nearly 350 touches in 2010 and 2011. As a result, the Ravens picked Bernard Pierce in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft to help with some of the workload. Going into last year’s fantasy draft, I don’t think any of us saw Pierce or fullback Vonta Leach as a viable threat to Rice’s touches.
Late in the year, we began to see Pierce put up some good numbers and even split reps at times. Pierce put up some good numbers in garbage time and had a decent showing during the NFL playoffs. It was a performance that began to stir up whispers of Rice losing touches to Pierce which clouded his fantasy value.
When Anquan Boldin was shipped off to the San Francisco 49ers, people started talking more and more about how the Ravens would be forced to rely on the run more. When the Ravens didn’t spend a single one of their 10 picks in the 2013 NFL Draft on a running back, it instantly lead to speculation that the dreaded running-back-by-committee ground game was coming to town.
Pierce’s draft value shot up the boards and people started using words like “sleeper” and “handcuff.”
In the settling dust of the 2013 NFL Draft, I thought all the talk of Pierce’s upcoming fantasy value was just another one of those pumped-up stories football analysts talk about during the offseason to fill air time. When camp opened, Dennis Pitta promptly turned his hip into hamburger, sparking even more speculation about the new look of the Ravens’ offense.
I don’t think we will see as much of a decrease in Rice’s fantasy value as we will see an increase in Pierce’s value. The short-passing game in Baltimore’s offense is essentially an extension of the running game. In the past, Rice’s value in the passing game was shared with Pitta.
With Rice being called upon more to pick up the slack in the short-passing game, his value goes up in PPR scoring formats. Last year, Pierce was targeted 11 times in the passing game, catching seven and dropping one. That’s not enough of a body of work to say one way or the other what his role could be through the air. However, with Rice being called upon more in the short-passing game, I think it leaves even more touches on the ground for Pierce, who has the better size to go between the tackles.
Pierce and Rice both ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, and Leach has resigned with the team to be able to open holes. I think Rice keeps his place in the mid-to-late first round of fantasy drafts. Pierce should go late in the eight round or early in the ninth round. If you do draft Rice, then I think you have to reach for Pierce in the seventh round for no better reason than Rice is starting to pile up a lot of touches and could be due for a breakdown injury.
If Rice does go down for any serious amount of time, especially late in the season when you’ll need his production the most, then Pierce has a handcuff value too high to ignore.
Eric Beuning is a Fantasy Football writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twittertwitter.com/EricBeuning, or add him to your network on Google.