RB Ray Rice was one of many fantasy backs drafted in the early rounds who disappointed in 2013, along with the likes of David Wilson, Trent Richardson, Arian Foster and C.J. Spiller. Thank God I drafted Jamaal Charles in the first round last year instead of Rice or Foster. For the record, I actually think that Foster will have a great 2014 season.
But as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “the only thing that is constant is change.” This applies to many, if not most aspects of life, but especially in fantasy football. So what kind of change do we expect from Ray Rice in 2014? Well, the way I see it, there have been three big changes this offseason that will affect his fantasy football value this coming season.
The first change is the Baltimore Ravens‘ offense. Gary Kubiak, the new offensive coordinator, has expressed his confidence in Rice. His zone-blocking scheme uses a strong running game to set up play-action passes, and Kubiak likes a talented lead back who can shoulder the workload (see: Arian Foster).
Baltimore has also made moves to improve their passing offense to complement the run game. The Ravens promptly signed WR Steve Smith after the Carolina Panthers released him this offseason. In addition, the Ravens now have two very capable pass-catching TEs in Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels. All these factors should make it much easier for Joe Flacco to return to form after a horrid season during which he threw 19 TDs and 22 INTs.
Kubiak’s installment as offensive coordinator and the addition of proficient receivers to aid Torrey Smith and Flacco should greatly improve Baltimore’s offensive scoring and open up the field, giving Rice ample room to run.
The second factor is Rice’s health and conditioning. Rice suffered a hip flexor injury in Week 2 of last year, and that impacted his play for the rest of the season. It also led to a significant weight gain, leading to more plodding than precision running. According to Ravens head strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki, “he looks great.” Rice should be completely healed from his hip injury, and he seems to be taking the right steps toward getting back to game shape.
Finally, perhaps the most important change is Ray Rice’s legal woes. A grand jury indicted him for third-degree aggravated assault in March after an incident with his then-fiancé in a casino in Atlantic City.
Before we go on, I want to make clear two things. One, I am not a lawyer nor an expert on the law. To quote Jay-Z, “nah, I ain’t passed the bar but I know a little bit, enough that you won’t illegally search my”… stuff. Two, I disapprove of anyone who would strike a woman under any circumstance, but let’s focus solely on Ray Rice as a football player and the fantasy football implications of what occurred.
Rice is now married to Janay Palmer. From what I understand, she doesn’t have to testify against him if she has spousal privilege. However, there is supposedly video footage documenting everything that happened. I can’t predict whether or not he will be found guilty and sentenced, but here’s what I think:
Even if Rice isn’t sharing a cell with Aaron Hernandez, he still may be suspended for a few games. Even though head coach John Harbaugh and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti have supported Rice, the NFL likely will discipline him even if Rice is cleared of these charges. When Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault back in 2010, the NFL suspended him for six games (later reduced to four) despite the fact that no charges were even filed.
So here’s my take on all of this. If Rice is not in prison and not suspended, I would draft him as my RB2. I think he can easily get 1,300 total yards and 10 TDs in 2014. If Rice is suspended for four games, I would be willing to buy low on him as an RB4 with upside. If he’s suspended for six games or more, I’d still buy low for the right price if he drops to the 10th round or later. If Rice is in prison … well, there are all kinds of fantasy leagues out there from what I understand, but I won’t be drafting him in fantasy football.