Ravens RB Ray Rice is No. 9 at his position and No. 18 overall in our latest fantasy rankings, which seems about right to me, and not just because they are our rankings.
Using these rankings, Rice projects as a second-round pick in most leagues. And if you have played fantasy football long enough, you surely have taken someone less skilled and less versatile that early before. The draft board breaks in weird ways some years.
I can see why some owners would pass on Rice, even if he falls to them late in Round Two. He is not a slam-dunk pick, which is why he figures to be on the board after Round One. Owners who took him early last year remember that he scored just six touchdowns and that he rushed for fewer yards and racked up fewer receiving yards than the previous season. Also, his rushing average fell from 5.3 to 4.0 yards per carry.
Even the owners who look past those numbers might have their concerns about the Ravens' offense. The Ravens were 22nd in yards gained per game a season ago, and their ability to thrive against top defensive clubs remains questionable.
Nevertheless, Rice is the safest bet on a sometimes shaky offense. He can hurt defenses multiple ways, and the Ravens can deploy him creatively. He has exceeded 1,200 rushing yards and 550 receiving yards the past two seasons. Another point in his favor: he hasn't missed a game since entering the staring lineup in '09, and he has shown he can handle a featured-back workload.
Rice won't go lacking for work this season with Willis McGahee (Denver) and Le'Ron McClain (Kansas City) having departed. And the addition of All-Pro FB Vonta Leach via free agency gives Rice one of the best lead blockers in the league. So, the 5-8, 212-pound Rice should get more scoring chances. Rice owners had lamented McGahee getting short-yardage and goal-line work the past two seasons — when Rice scored 14 touchdowns and McGahee had 20 TDs. That shouldn't be a problem this season.
Ultimately, though, Rice's adaptability is his appeal. If the Ravens want to grind it out on offense, he'll be a busy man. If the screen pass is working against an aggressive defense, he'll rack up the receiving yards. Tough, productive and multitalented, he is going to get his yards, some way, somehow.