The Baltimore Ravens were thought to have one of the top running back tandems in the league entering the 2013 season. But poor offensive line play, and injuries, led to dismal seasons for both Ray Rice (660 rushing yards and four touchdowns; 58 catches for 321 yards) and Bernard Pierce (436 rushing yards and two touchdowns). Fantasy football owners definitely noticed, as Rice has been one of the top fantasy running backs in recent years and Pierce was roster-worthy himself in deeper leagues at the start of the season.
Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh has already hinted at a backfield timeshare next season, which would diminish the fantasy value of all involved and make Rice in particular a very risky option. Pierce will reportedly undergo surgery to repair a damaged rotator cuff in his right shoulder later this month, but should fantasy owners still pay attention to him going forward?
Pierce showed good potential as a rookie in 2012, with 532 yards on 108 carries (4.9 yards per carry), but the nose for the end zone he showed during his college career at Temple (53 rushing touchdowns in three seasons) has not yet come to fruition with just three touchdowns on the ground in his first two NFL seasons. Multiple nagging injuries (shoulder, hamstring, toe, knee) were a factor this year, and if Pierce had been closer to full strength it can be assumed his workload would have been much bigger with how much Rice struggled. Rice missed his first game since his rookie season (2008) in Week 3 against the Houston Texans, and not coincidentally Pierce set season-highs for carries (24) and yards (65) in the game along with a touchdown.
The Ravens got away from the running game this season, with 26.4 attempts per game (tied for 18th in the league) after being in the top half of the league in rush attempts in each of the previous three seasons and in the top-10 twice (2010, 2011) over that span. A renewed commitment to running the ball, along with improvement from an offensive line that underachieved this year, would benefit the entire Baltimore offense in 2014.
Rice carries some serious red flags now that he did not have previously, but he will still be the most fantasy-worthy running back on the Ravens’ roster for at least one more year. I don’t think Pierce will be draftable outside of very deep single-season leagues next summer, and his value will be greatest as a handcuff to Rice, but he is a solid depth option in deep keeper leagues since his value has a chance to go up significantly after next season.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.