Ray Rice, RB

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Monday, November 10, 2014, 7:52pm

Baltimore Sun - [Full Article]

The breakthrough season that Ravens running back Bernard Pierce was hoping for hasn't materialized. Pierce was initially projected as the starter once Ray Rice was indefinitely suspended and his $35 million contract was terminated.

However, a lost fumble against the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener, a subsequent quadriceps injury and the emergence of Justin Forsett as the Ravens' featured running back has affected Pierce's status.

During a 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Pierce was more involved in the offense than usual when he rushed for 31 yards on eight carries. Pierce had just one carry for 2 yards in a 43-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous week and was a healthy scratch against the Bengals the week before that.

Pierce hasn't complained about his status and said he's just trying to make the most out of his opportunities.

"It's definitely a confidence-booster," Pierce said after the win over the Titans. "I knew I still had it. Contributing to a win is definitely a good feeling."

Fantasy Impact:

Against Tennessee, Pierce had a long run of 10 yards. The Ravens wore down the Titans, rushing for 151 yards on 34 carries, but it was Forsett who led the way with 112 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. Pierce had more of a role Sunday than rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro, who had three carries for 10 yards one week after he lost a fumble against the Steelers. Forsett is the team's lead back and the RB2 spot is going to the guy who hasn't fumbled most recently.

Scouting Report

Ray Rice is coming off a rough year. Not only did he finish 2013 with his worst season as a pro, only 660 yards and 4 touchdowns on a paltry 3.1 yards per carry average, but he was also arrested for an assault against his then fiancée in September. We know the impact of the arrest, a 2 game suspension to start the season. What we don’t know is if that 3.1 yards per carry was an anomaly or the start of a rapid decline for one of fantasy’s most consistent producers over the previous four seasons.

Fantasy Upside
Rice has always been versatile, and even last year he wound up catching nearly 60 balls, giving him added value in PPR leagues, and helping him stay on the field during passing downs. However, Rice’s upside really lies in two things: First, the hope that last season was an anomaly and that improvements on the O-Line (most notably from newly acquired former Buccaneers Center Jeremy Zuttah) will help; and Second, the hope that new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak can breathe life into one of last season’s worst rushing attacks in the NFL. Kubiak’s Texans were a debacle last year, but they were top ten in the league in rushing from 2010 through 2012, including ranking second in the NFL in 2011. Kubiak will bring his zone-blocking scheme he learned under Mike Shanahan with him to Baltimore, a scheme notorious for being running back friendly.

Fantasy Downside
There is always the possibility that Rice is simply done. Running backs often peak and then rapidly fizzle out (i.e. Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson), so it wouldn’t be unheard of for this to simply be all Rice has in the tank. While only 27, Rice has carried the ball nearly 1,500 times in his career. That’s an awful lot of hits for one body to take. Additionally, backup Bernard Pierce is looming, a player who struggled heavily last year, but had success the previous season. Missing the first two games of the season is also an obvious downside to his fantasy value.

Bottom Line
In all likelihood, Rice will bounce back after he serves his suspension. While he may not reach 300 carries again this year, he will still carry the load on what will ultimately be an improved offense this year. Carries and opportunity often mean great things for running backs. Rice has too many red flags to be considered a high draft choice, but for the right value, he could be a sneaky good RB2 or RB3 who still has RB1 upside.

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