If you plan on having Ray Rice on your fantasy team in 2014, you need to have a plan in place if the running back misses anytime from a looming suspension.
In the past three mock drafts I have participated in, Rice was drafted in the fourth round once and fifth round twice. This early data means that while 27-year-old back isn’t expected to be the central focus of fantasy players’ teams, he is still viewed as a starter in the flex spot who could eventually outperform the second running back players are drafting. He is a candidate for a bounce-back season, but fantasy owners will need to prepare themselves for when he misses time.
When it comes to players forced off the field due to suspensions, the fantasy community tends to overreact. I was able to draft Josh Gordon in some of my leagues last year very late, but I never planned on relying on him early in the season. I had secured my starters earlier in the draft, and landing Gordon past the 10th round even with his suspension wasn’t going to have a negative effect on my team. I already had my starters in place, and when Gordon started to shine, he easily found his way into my lineup each week. There was no risk in drafting him with such a late pick, but Rice is a little different.
If his ADP is near the end of the fourth round in August, that means that Rice is most likely the third running back on the owners’ team. I am not a big fan of handcuffing players, and this is one of the situations that adds to my dislike of the idea. A backup running back is not the same player as the starter, and he isn’t going to have success just because he is handed a starting role.
If you look at backup Bernard Pierce, he struggled to add value to the offensive attack in 2013 with a 2.9 yards per carry average and a minimal amount of receptions. He is also still recovering from shoulder surgery. The Baltimore Ravens brought in dual-threat back Justin Forsett on a one-year deal, but the 28-year-old back has never made a huge fantasy impact throughout his career. Finally, you have rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro, who was recently arrested and could potentially face his own punishment from the league. It appears that the rushing attack for the early part of the season will be a by-committee approach until Rice can return as the starter.
A scary possibility for Rice owners is that he could be suspended for four games, which would obviously lower his ADP and allow you to draft him much later. If he misses two games, however, he will probably go in the early rounds like my mock drafts indicate. The best solution to compensate for this is to look for players who have provided consistent results. It appears that Fred Jackson is going anywhere between the sixth and eighth rounds, which would provide you with a comfortable solution. You can also find Maurice Jones-Drew and Steven Jackson being drafted close to the 10th round, and that is an amazing spot to draft potential top-15 backs.
You may think that you can just instantly handcuff Rice and everything will work out, but fantasy players should look outside of Baltimore for a replacement option for the Ravens’ starting running back if he misses any game time.