In life, there are a handful of things you can consistently count on.
Cory and Topanga getting back together, A Christmas Story being on all day long on Christmas day, and who could forget the most obvious one? Ray Rice being a top fantasy back every single year.
So, umm, what the heck has happened in 2013?
After finishing inside the top-15 among running backs in every year since 2009 (6th, 1st, 11th, 4th), Rice was pegged as one of the safest draft picks in fantasy leagues heading into this season. Over 1,000 total yards, 40 catches and 8-10 touchdowns were pretty much a lock each and every year. Well, through 10 weeks of the season, Rice is one pace for less than 1,000 rushing yards, and is currently the number 30 fantasy running back. His 2.5 yards per carry is uncharacteristically horrid, and it’s just incredibly odd to see one of the seven best running backs in football struggle the way Rice has been lately. Many fantasy owners are scratching their heads, wondering what is going on in Baltimore. Many have already benched him, but some are even considering dropping the consensus top-five pick. The latter, to me, is a bit premature, but something is wrong in Baltimore, and I tried to figure out exactly what.
Baltimore’s Atrocious Offensive Line
Rice is a good enough back to succeed with almost any group of blockers in front of him. But this group has just been really, really bad this season. Pro Football Focus has center Gino Gradkowski ranked as the third-worst center in football, Bryant McKinnie in the bottom 10 among left tackles and both tight ends Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson have negative run-block ratings. Marshall Yanda is the only player to scrape by with a positive rating (0.2). This group isn’t finishing their blocks, aren’t winning the battles in the trenches, and as a result, Rice finds himself doing more dancing than north and south running.
Baltimore is currently running for four or more yards on just 29 percent of their rushing plays, which is the lowest in the entire league. He’s had difficulty making plays after contact. According to PFF, Rice has totaled a weak 159 rushing yards after contact, which is the lowest among starting running backs to play in at least eight games. Because the offensive line has been so bad, the screen game for Baltimore hasn’t been nearly as effective as in year’s past, so Rice, a guy who has totaled 2,000 yards from scrimmage in two of his last four years, has struggled to serve as a factor in the passing game.
Rice certainly hasn’t been the same, but it’s difficult to get going when you don’t have much room to run.
Baltimore’s Offense Isn’t Much Better
With a bad offensive line, comes a bad offense as a whole. Through 10 weeks, the Ravens rank as the number 29 offense in football, averaging 307.6 yards per game. They rank 21st in points per game (20.9) and have only averaged 2.1 offensive touchdowns per game, which ranks 24th in the league right now. When it comes to moving the chains, the Ravens aren’t too good, averaging just 18.2 first downs per contest (24th). It’s hard for Rice to get things going when the offense continues to punt the ball away.
Quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t lived up to his massive contract, either. PFF currently ranks him as the 35th overall quarterback out of 38 candidates, and his 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions are nothing to write home about. Flacco has also been sacked 30 times this season, which is tied for the third-most among all signal callers. Some of these sacks have been crushing to the Ravens offense, forcing unfortunate fourth downs, which ultimately takes Rice off the field. Baltimore is in the middle of the pack in time of possession, averaging 30:13 per contest. The Ravens offense as a whole has been very ineffective for the majority of the season, and Rice and his fantasy owners have been paying the consequences thus far.
I’ve been asked if owners should drop Rice from their fantasy teams and while he’s been bad (averaging 9.43 points per game), I still believe that’s a bit premature. Rice is too good to be down for this long, and while the offense around him isn’t very appealing, I think he can give you some production down the stretch. Who knows, it could start this week in a good matchup against the Bears, who are absolutely decimated with injuries this season. Chicago is allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to opposing rushers, and have surrendered 456 rushing yards over the last four weeks. He also has a Week 14 matchup with the lowly Vikings defense, which could boost owners in a potential must-win week to get into the fantasy playoffs.
Don’t drop Rice from your fantasy team, but don’t feel bad for benching him, either.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.