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.
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.
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.
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.