Fantasy Football: Comeback running backs

This is the continuation of my first article outlining comeback fantasy football running backs.

Ray Rice- Baltimore Ravens

If anyone who read my last article owned both Ray Rice and C.J. Spiller last season, I can almost hear their criticism upon reading this second name.

And it is totally understandable. After Spiller, Rice may have been last season’s biggest bust. He was picked in the late first or early second rounds of most drafts. Then he went out and produced his worst statistical season since his rookie year.

Pick a stat, any stat, and it quickly becomes apparent that Rice just flat out stunk last year. He rushed for just 660 yards rushing on only 3.1 yards per carry. He only made it into the end zone four times. He recorded a pedestrian 5.5 yards per reception while tying his career record for fumbles lost. On top of that he managed to make it all worse this offseason via the debacle with his finance and is now possibly facing a multi-game suspension. All in all, Rice wishes he could just erase the 2013 season.

However, as with most of the players on this list, fantasy owners need to remember that this is Ray Rice. He is a franchise running back in his prime, something that is not a dime a dozen in today’s NFL. He is the same guy who, until last year, had amassed at least 1,100 yards rushing each season following his rookie year. This is the same guy who fantasy owners regarded as one of the few reliable running backs in the league, until last year. My point is, maybe fantasy owners should also act like 2013 was erased. Maybe not erased, but at the very least they shouldn’t let it dominate their perception of one of the best running backs in the game.

Baltimore Ravens

Look for Ray Rice to return to his former self

Last season, not only was Rice affected by a hip injury that did not allow him to run effectively, but his offensive line had a lot of trouble blocking for him. Or just in general for that matter. They gave up 48 sacks, the fourth most in the NFL, while helping the Ravens average 3.1 yards per carry as a team collectively. With the addition of Gary Kubiak at offensive coordinator, many expect the Ravens to adopt a zone blocking scheme to match the athletic ability of their offensive line. The Ravens also traded for former Tampa Bay Buccaneers center, Jeremy Zuttah as well as regaining Kelechi Osemele who required back surgery in November. This increases the probability of the offensive line’s ability to open holes for Rice this season.

The most encouraging news about Rice came from his quarterback this week. According to The Baltimore Sun, Rice came into the spring 20 pounds lighter and appears to have regained the quickness that injury robbed from him last season. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hailed Rice’s work in spring practice while the trainer suggested the running back is more explosive than he was most of last season.

The best part is, Rice’s horrid season last years has him currently going in the sixth round. That’s right, the sixth. Fantasy owners can potentially draft him as their third string running back. A third string running back, with top ten upside that can be drafted with relatively little risk in the SIXTH ROUND!!! If this doesn’t get fantasy owners excited I don’t know what will.

Last season was Rice’s floor; it can only go up from here. I for one will be keeping my eye on Rice waiting to snatch him late, when the risk is low and the upside is through the roof.

Steven Jackson- Atlanta Falcons

I know there are some people out there rolling their eyes as they read this name. It’s understandable. Jackson is 32 years old. That’s the same age as Fred Jackson, who I just dismissed in my last article. But there is one huge difference between Steven and Fred: opportunity.

Steven Jackson is in a passing offense so he will no longer have to be the 300-carry workhorse he was with the St. Louis Rams. Being in a passing offense also means he will rarely face a loaded box, which is important for a 32-year-old.

Last, but most importantly, putting Jackson in a high-octane offense means there will be a lot of red zone opportunities. In 2011 and 2012, the years before Jackson got to Atlanta, the Falcons’ primary running back led the league in goal line carries. The only problem was that running back was a fading Michael Turner who squandered his opportunities as he only converted 36 percent of his goal line carries.

atlanta falcons

Jackson will make the most of his goal line carries

Coming into last season Jackson had rushed for at least 1,000 yards eight seasons in a row. Last season he was hampered by a torn hamstring suffered in week two, so no one got to see what his true potential is as a Falcon. As I said in my quarterback article, the Falcons ranked dead last in rushing yards due to a poor offensive line. This season they picked up Jon Asamoah and get Sam Baker back from a knee injury to strength their offensive line.

If Jackson can stay healthy expect him gain over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and score a lot of touchdowns. Best of all, as with all these players, fantasy owners can draft Jackson as their third running back, even in 12-person leagues. He is currently being drafted in the late seventh round. For a proven veteran in an electrifying offense that is value.