If you have had Ray Rice on your fantasy team during any of the past four years, you have likely been pretty pleased with the results.
He has averaged 1,877 yards and nearly 10 scores per year over that time span. While these numbers have fantasy drafters taking him as one of the first players selected, there are a few reasons why Rice should be avoided in the first round of standard drafts all together.
The first of those reasons is a simple trend-line in his production. For the past three seasons he has gone from 308 carries, to 291, to only 257 carries last year.
His saving grace has surely been the 60+ receptions he has had in each of those three years. After scoring 15 times in 2011, he was reduced to 10 touchdowns last year. In 2012 he racked up “only” 1,621 yards compared to an average of 1,963 yards for the previous three years.
We will see later that the reduction in touches will continue and his yards per carry, which has also steadily dropped, will also be negatively affected in 2013.
Eight in the Box
The second issue Rice is dealing with is the loss of Anquan Boldin in the passing game. Teams will have to defend against the likes of Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Jacoby Jones in the passing game. Certainly not the scariest of trios and as a defensive coordinator I think I’d take my chances in single coverage against those three and stack the box to plan for Rice and Pierce.
So Rice will be dealing with more and more 8-man boxes. Teams will contain Rice so that he has fewer big gains when he does get lose. It all spells fewer yards on even fewer carries.
Loss of Leach
Third is the loss of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach. Leach has been the lead blocker for Rice and has allowed him to have a staggering 4.57 yard per carry average over the last four seasons. Rice will likely see a drop in production without Leach leading the way and will also be privy to harder hits as he gets stuck in the collapse of an eight man box.
Running back by committee?
What I see as the largest kink in Rice’s armor is some guy names Bernard Pierce. Over the last nine weeks of 2012, Pierce averaged 10 touches per week! That is 160 touches over the course of a season for a team that doesn’t run up the score. While this is likely good for the long term health of Ray Rice, it is terrible for his year to year fantasy numbers.
Not only is Pierce getting the touches, but he is doing something with them. Last season he averaged over 4.9 yards per carry, which if you didn’t remember was even better than Rice. He has apparently put on even more muscle after playing last year around 218 pounds. He is the perfect complement to the speedy Rice and will be used often.
Compute and Compare the Numbers
So where does that leave Rice? Based on his drop in carries over the past two seasons and the continued loss of touches to Bernard Pierce, it is easily within reason to drop his carries to the 215-225 mark. Rice should still factor in to the passing game, maybe even slightly more-so with Boldin gone so I could see him still getting around 70 receptions.
His yards per carry are likely to drop to around the 4.20 mark which only makes sense with the loss of Leach and defenses focusing more on the running game. He could even see it lower than that, but hey, it’s Ray Rice.
At 220 carries and 4.20 yards per carry, he would finish the year with only 924 rushing yards, which would make sense based on his drop from 1,364 to 1,143 from 2011 to 2012. He should still see upwards of 600 yards receiving. His touchdowns will likely stay around the 8-10 mark. This gives him a total of around 200 fantasy points in standard scoring leagues.
So you are drafting your fantasy team and need to figure out where to take a guy like Rice. We can easily put him below the likes of AP, Foster, and Martin. But where does he rank with the likes of Charles, Lynch, Morris, Spiller, Richardson, Ridley, McCoy, Gore, Cj2K, Forte, wide receivers such as Megatron, AJ Green, Dez Bryant, and Marshall, and even quarterbacks such as Rodgers and Brees?
Based on 2012 stats and expected potential for 2013, I can safely give the nod to Charles, Richardson, Morris, Spiller, and Lynch. Simply repeating their 2012 performances would put them ahead of Rice.
McCoy finished last year with over 1,200 yards and five scores; but he did so in only 12 games. Projected over 16 weeks he would have had closer to 1,600 yards and seven scores. In Chip Kelly’s offense he could even surpass that total. He does not face the RBBC situation as much as Rice does and will play just as much into the passing game. So, I also like him better than Rice.
While Stevan Ridley finished with 1,300 yards and a dozen scores, I see his totals decreased by the use of Shane Vereen and defenses focusing a little more on the run with the loss of numerous targets in the passing game. So Rice gets the edge here.
Forte and CJ2K are very similar in value to Rice. They will both be a part of the passing attack and both have other backs to steal carries from them (Bush and Greene). Rice gets the nod on both of them as well.
So what about compared to elite wide receivers? I believe you can expect guaranteed superstar performances from the likes of Megatron, Green, Marshall, and Bryant. Each of them is capable of 120 receptions, over 1,600 yards, and a dozen touchdowns and we have seen that the 2,000-yard barrier is within reach.
The drop-off from the elite wide receivers to the next tier is much larger than the drop-off from Rice to guys like Forte, Gore, Ridley, CJ2K, Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush, and numerous others. So an argument could be made to take all four of them before Rice.
Taking into consideration the options to select an elite quarterback like Rodgers or Brees as well, Ray Rice could reasonable fall to 16th overall. Crazy, right? If 16 is even within the realm of consideration then avoiding Rice in the first round makes sense to me.
The risks involved are so much higher than other potential first round options that I would gladly pass on Rice for younger guys like Richardson and Morris or a superstar like Megatron, Rodgers, or Green.