This is the third in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: Rice is one of the prime candidates to receive the franchise tag before the start of free agency. With the Ravens wanting to sign QB Joe Flacco to a contract extension before his current deal expires after the 2012 season, it remains to be seen whether Baltimore can get both players under contract for the long term. The franchise tag gives the Ravens some flexibility, but both sides would likely prefer a long-term deal. That would mean more money for Rice and more salary-cap room for the Ravens.
Notes: Rice, 25, has been the Ravens' featured back the last three seasons. He rushed for 1,364 yards and 12 TDs on 291 carries and caught 76 passes for 704 yards and three TDs in 2011 as Baltimore captured the AFC North title. In 61 career games, Rice has averaged 108.4 total yards per game, and he's exceeded 2,000 combined yards in two of the last three seasons.
Positives: The 5-8, 212-pound Rice plays bigger than his size, but he's also quick and shifty. Rice has very good lower-body strength. He can run through or shed tackles and rack up yardage after contact. He's a three-down back — an exceptional pass catcher who's dangerous on screens and check-downs and can also line up in the slot. Rice has not missed a game since entering the starting lineup in 2009.
Negatives: Rice has been heavily used for much of his pro and collegiate careers, getting at least 333 touches in five of the last seven years dating back to his freshman year at Rutgers. Though Rice has been very productive in the regular season, he's been held in check in his last four postseason games, rushing for just 216 yards on 71 carries (3.0 ypc). While Rice is strong for his size, he is still small for a featured back.
Risk factor: Low to moderate. Versatile, productive and durable, Rice is one of the game's best backs. He has been asked to do a lot throughout his time as a starter, and he has thrived. The Ravens would figure to work hard to retain him for 2012 and beyond. He's an ideal fit for their offense.