Ray Rice, searching for space (USAT Images)
Last week, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was removed from Yahoo's can't-cut list, and it can be reasonably argued that his removal was overdue.
It's crazy that a consensus first-round fantasy pick has fallen so far, but, well ... here we are. Rice has rushed for fewer than 50 yards in seven of his eight games this season, he's averaging just 2.5 yards per carry (career 4.4), and he's gaining only 4.9 yards per catch (career 8.4). He's really done nothing well this season — nothing at all.
Recently, his head coach has talked up the possibility of a hot-hand backfield:
“Both of those guys [Rice and Bernard Pierce] are going to get a large number of carries, and I think whichever guy is playing better should get more carries as we go forward,” Harbaugh said.
So there's yet another thing for Rice's owners to fret about. A Pierce takeover is a definite possibility (not that he's been so great: 3.9 YPC career, 2.8 in 2013).
Despite Ray's remarkably poor 2013 performance, however, he still makes frequent appearances in sit/start questions. And I get it — it's never easy benching a guy you drafted sixth overall. It's also never easy to bench a running back who's facing the Bears defense, a group that's been abysmal against the run. Over Chicago's last five games, the team has allowed a ridiculous 789 total yards and nine TDs to opposing RBs.
If you're a matchup zealot, Rice should be one of Week 11's most appealing fantasy options. But obviously he isn't, because he's been awful. His longest gain on any play this year, rushing or receiving, is 18 yards. This is a guy who's touched the ball 148 times.
I'd love to build the case that Rice is still capable of exploiting a friendly defense, but I don't see anything in the game film or the situational stats that suggests he can do it. Basically, I'm treating the Chicago game as Rice's last stand for fantasy purposes. If he can't put up a respectable total against this D, then ... well, then Pierce will probably be the lead back for Baltimore, soon.
Here's the Rice stat that really floors me, making me skeptical about his ability to dent any defense: On 43 carries this season against nickel packages, Ray is averaging just 2.1 yards. Two-point-one. (That's per PFF's Mike Clay, so you know it's good.) We obviously expect rushing production to improve, not decline, when extra DBs are on the field. Last year, Rice picked up 4.6 YPC versus nickel. If you'd assumed that his struggles this season were merely a byproduct of extra defensive attention, think again. The hip injury could very well be the culprit here, but, if that's the case, there's no reason to think he'll get better without rest and/or maintenance.
Bottom line: If you want to flex him for one last week, fine. I can see it. The matchup demands it. But if Ray can't get right against Chicago, then you really have to assume it won't happen for him this year — certainly not in Week 12 against the Jets, nor in Week 13 against Pittsburgh.
(Please, let's not ridicule the Rice owners in comments, OK? They've suffered enough. Instead, we should try to make this thing a support group.)
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