Coming off his worst season since entering the league in 2008, Ravens running back Ray Rice may have single-handedly thwarted many fantasy football owners’ postseason aspirations after an abysmal year in which he failed to break 1,000 total yards from scrimmage. The former fantasy cornerstone’s value has been questioned repeatedly all offseason, with many clamoring for Baltimore to release the two-time All-Pro.
While it appeared his fantasy stock could not fall much lower, it managed to take another hit this week with the NFL announcing a two-game suspension for Rice in response to an Atlantic City alternation with his now-wife. The details of the incident are well-known, and many believe Rice’s punishment was not severe enough given his offense. With his public perception tarnished, many fantasy owners will now risk their reputation when it comes to selecting Rice for this year.
Despite what backlash you may get in your league for selecting a now polarizing figure, feel confident in your selection of the three-time Pro Bowler.
In fact, Rice’s offseason has created a situation in which he will be a bargain for fantasy owners.
Rice has been ranked between RB2-RB3 territory, falling everywhere from upper teens to late 20s in RB rankings. Add on his suspension and it is likely he will slip even farther in the rankings and in your draft. Realistically, you can expect him to be available in rounds 6-8 (Frank Gore, Toby Gerhart, Joique Bell territory).
Based on talent and current situation, Rice is the only player in this tier with the potential to end up as a top-ten running back.
According to local reports, Rice has looked phenomenal in camp and workouts. He has lost roughly 20 pounds since last season when he weighed as much as 225 pounds while struggling with hip and quadriceps injuries. When analyzing his value for this upcoming season, it is unfair to judge him exclusively off of last year since these ailments clearly affected his play. Now Rice is in better health than he was at any point during the 2013 campaign. At the very least, is a sign he will be ready to provide quality touches for a struggling offense.
His offseason transgressions appear to have motivated Rice to reclaim his spot as one of the league’s best rushers. Using football as a safe haven from criticism, Rice appears to be more inspired for his return to the gridiron than during any other offseason in his career.
It was painfully obvious to Ravens faithful last season that the Rutgers product was either playing apathetic or hurt for the majority of the year. Addressing both issues in his tumultuous offseason, Rice should be poised for a comeback season. This becomes especially likely with the addition of Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator.
Kubiak’s offenses have ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards 13 out of his 19 seasons as an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator, and in the top 5 10 times. His proven zone-blocking scheme churns 1,000-yard rushers seemingly out of nowhere, with Olandis Gary and Reuben Droughns both reaching the threshold during Kubiak’s time in Denver.
Couple this systemic change with personal additions to the wide receiving corps and offensive line and Rice’s 2014 outlook is one resembling that of a top-ten rusher. While there is competition in the backfield vying for the starting job during the weeks of his suspension, Rice remains the most talented man in the backfield, and arguably, the whole offense. By shear virtue of his contract, the Ravens view Rice as an investment, meaning the club will find ways to put him in opportunities for success throughout the year.
These types of players are seldom available in the middle of the draft, so if he’s there, do not be afraid to take Rice.