For three straight years now, I have owned Ray Rice on my home league fantasy rosters. In two of those three seasons, I have won a championship. Trust me, folks. It’s no coincidence. Rice is one of the best fantasy running backs in the game today, so why are many fantasy owners straying away from him for the upcoming 2013 season?
Heck, beats me.
Since Rice became the Ravens featured back in 2009, all he has done is post four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, double-digit total touchdowns and at least 60 catches during that span. Those awesome numbers have been good enough for Rice to finish as fantasy’s number six running back in 2012, number one in 2011, number 11 in 2010 and number four in 2009. I think Rice, despite consistently being an elite fantasy back, sometimes gets overlooked because, outside of 2011, he never really posts those otherworldly numbers. And trust me, I get it. The top-10 fantasy backs this season are all very exciting, and with massive upside guys such as Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller and Jamaal Charles, I understand preferring them over Rice. It’s a fair assessment, but please, don’t drastically drop a guy of Rice’s stature in your rankings because of the presence of backup Bernard Pierce.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and lie to everyone. The emergence of Pierce is a legitimate one. After carrying the ball 108 times for 532 yards last season, and emerging down the stretch, the Ravens were well aware that they have something special in this kid. The team plans on giving the Temple product anywhere between 125-150 carries, but that certainly won’t scare me away from drafting a guy as consistent as Rice in my fantasy drafts. Although Pierce has the more favorable build as a goal line back, Rice will still be the guy to get the touches in that area. And oh, by the way, All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach has returned to the club, which is certainly an added benefit for Rice’s value. Don’t get me wrong, Pierce will get his touches, but not nearly enough to put a dent in Rice’s fantasy outlook for 2013.
While Leach is back with the Ravens, the team has also watched a ton of valuable assets walk out of the door. Obviously, the departures of guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are the mainstream ones, but how about the loss of slot receiver Anquan Boldin? This guy was huge for the Ravens down the stretch, and was really a huge part of that offense. On top of letting Boldin go, the team also took a hit when up-and-coming tight end Dennis Pitta was sidelined for the 2013 season with a hip injury. Now, the passing game takes a massive hit, and outside of Torrey Smith, who the heck is going to catch the football? Well, how about a guy like Rice? Over the past few seasons, Rice has emerged as one of the game’s premiere pass-catching backs, hauling in almost 70 balls per season since 2009. In two of those seasons, Rice has also been targeted 100 times, which is something to always look at when it comes to fantasy. I didn’t buy that Rice’s workload was going to diminish this season in the first place, but I especially don’t buy it after watching two of their top receiving options disappear. And even if you are a tad worried about Pierce cutting into Rice’s carries, his presence in the passing game will be more than enough. When Baltimore wants to throw the football, it’s going to be Rice, not Pierce, in the backfield. Last season, under newly appointed offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, quarterback Joe Flacco averaged just over 33 attempts per contest (not including a limited Week 17 contest) during the final six games. If Flacco continues to throw the ball more in 2013, Rice will benefit with tons of looks, considering how weak the wide receiver position is in Baltimore.
Don’t forget, guys. This won’t be the first time that Rice will see other backs get some work alongside him. Back in 2011, when Rice still finished as the top fantasy rusher, backup option Ricky Williams carried the ball 108 times, the same amount of carries Pierce saw last season. And what about in both 2009 and 2010 when Willis McGahee carried the football 109 and 100 times respectively? Pretty much what I’m saying is, Rice is an absolute stud, and will be utilized in too many ways to not be at least a top-10 fantasy running back. I don’t care how many touches Pierce ends up getting. Rice posted 13.8 fantasy points per contest last season, which was sixth-best among running backs.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.