Now for another installment of our Fantasy Stock Watch periodical. This series takes a look at players who either exceeded their anticipated contributions this year, or failed to live up to them and what we can expect come 2014. The biggest concern: you want to draft based on value, rather than paying for stats that will be hard to repeat and/or paying an expectant price for development that may not come.
Fantasy Stock Watch 2014: Other Entries
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
2013 ADP: 7 (RB7)
2013 Position Rank: RB28
2013 Expectations: Ray Rice
Most fantasy owners slated Rice for another typical season. Coming into the year, he’d finished inside the RB top 12 in each season since his rookie year (in which he received just four starters) and was coming off a top 6 overall campaign. There were those who had some concerns about whether Bernard Pierce‘s strong play down the stretch in 2012 would lead to an increase in reps for the young back but in general the fantasy community expected another strong season from Rice. He was viewed as a lock to make the top 12. He ranked as our consensus #8 back, which was lower than most and reflected some offseason pessimism but again, we expected continued production from Rice here inside the locker room.
Staff at CBS Sports (they weren’t alone) projected Rice for a huge season, with 1700 total yards and 10 combined touchdowns.
2013 Results: Ray Rice
None of that happened. Except for the part where he ceded a few carries to Bernard Pierce. The second year back picked up an additional 44 carries relative to last season and the veteran lost almost exactly that number (43). Rice had another productive season as a receiver, mind you, but was still down nearly 50 touches on the year.
Again, what we didn’t warn you about is that neither back would be effective, rushing for 2.9 and 3.1 yards per carry respectively. Overall, Rice’s 272 touches (218 carries) played just fine for volume but they were well short of the 315 he received in 2012.
The yards per carry number tells you just about everything you need to know. Rice ran poorly, period. The 3.1 YPC mark was 0.9 points less than any other season in his career and a full 1.3 yards behind his 2012 average, resulting in just 660 rushing yards. At 5.5 yards per reception Rice set yet another career low.
Of course, the fact that Pierce, who started his career on a high note in 2012 with 4.9 yards per carry finished a two whole yards behind that number in 2013 suggests that the problems weren’t Rice’s alone. For starters, Rice played the season with a nagging injury. He missed just one game, Baltimore’s Week 4 contest after suffering the hip injury in the prior contest, but was never quite right the rest of the way. Beyond that, he played behind an offensive line that couldn’t run block (hence Pierce’s mutually poor average). Pro Football Focus rated Baltimore’s run blocking as the 6th worst collectively in the league.
Neither issue absolves Rice though, who received a similarly woeful assessment from the unbiased ranking system at PFF. In fact, their numbers tell you that he was the worst in football (for any back who played in at least 25% of his team’s snaps). He finished 55/55 in ‘run’ rating at the position, with a -11.5 cumulative measure (the next less impressive was at -5.7). To further characterize things: he ranked as the least elusive back per PFF as well. On those 272 touches, Rice forced just 13 missed tackles. The next fewest of anyone with at least that many touches was Frank Gore, at 25. Blaming the offensive line alone overlooks the fact that Rice simply didn’t run so well this year.
2014 Oulook: Ray Rice
For his part, Rice is telling us now that he wishes he didn’t try to play through the injury. While some would debate whether the timing of the statement makes it seem more like an excuse than a proclamation of good things to come in 2014, the reality is that he was playing at well less than 100% for most of the season. A return to health can only mean good things for Rice.
Presumably, Baltimore will work to address the issues they had with run blocking personnel this offseason. Certainly, the talent level involved played a part but so did the fact that Baltimore switched to a zone blocking scheme under run game coordinator Juan Castillo. His title will change this season, but Castillo remains in charge of the team’s blocking (as offensive line coach). That said, Gary Kubiak arrives as offensive coordinator and brings with him a change in blocking philosophy. We’ve already spoken about Kubiak’s role in getting the most out of Tight Ends, and at the risk of offering a glowing assessment of a coach who was just deposed after a dismal offensive season in Houston, he’s had success with the Running Back position as well.
This year in Houston stunk. We mentioned that earlier. With Arian Foster missing most of the season and Ben Tate dealing with injuries of his own, they didn’t get a lot going in the run game. In 18 other seasons as an offensive coordinator or head coach at the NFL level, Kubiak has finished in the top 10 in rushing yards in all but five seasons. Four of those seasons were his first years in Houston, charged with getting the most out of Ron Dayne and Steve Slaton. The fifth was a top 12 season. Kubiak leads strong rushing offenses, and there is little reason to assume that he won’t make the run game a significant part of what he tries to do in Baltimore next year.
Knowing that, Rice is in line for a rebound. The elusiveness and efficiency concerns highlighted above suggest a back dealing with decline, but assuming even slight upgrades in blocking and a return to good health he still has a chance to be a productive back – just not necessarily the elite level rusher we were accustomed to before 2013.
Heading into 2013, Rice’s career low in rushing yards sat at 1143 (2012). That same season, he topped 1600 total yards, also a career low. 2013 represented a massive cliff, and while Rice has a lot of mileage on the tires it is foolish to assume that his talent eroded that quickly – he’s still just 27. I won’t project a return to the RB elite, but assuming another 275 touches or so, a top 15 RB season is not a stretch and this year you won’t have to overpay for his services.