From a fantasy perspective, of course, the play tells us little. It's not as if the 2009 Ravens will lean heavily on the Statue of Liberty in short-yardage situations. But it was certainly encouraging to Rice involved in the goal-line offense. Red zone workload is the fantasy community's lingering concern regarding the second-year back.
Baltimore's ground game was devastatingly effective last year – first in the AFC in yards (148.5), first in the NFL in carries (37.0 per game) – but the committee became an unknowable mess. Three backs reached triple-digit carries; none of them reached 1,000 yards. Le'Ron McClain(notes) accounted for half of the team's 20 rushing touchdowns while Willis McGahee(notes) broke the plane seven times.
Rice himself had a relatively quiet rookie season, although he led all Ravens running backs in both yards per carry (4.2) and receptions (33). He enters 2009 atop the depth chart following a stellar offseason, and Baltimore's offensive line added center Matt Birk(notes) and tackle Michael Oher(notes). Rice's setup has improved substantially. Don't sleep on him at your draft.
Here's a little preseason propaganda via the Baltimore Sun:
Last year's second-round draft pick is running with power, driving through tacklers in training camp. Rice is also much smarter. When the hole closes up, he knows where to bounce, making the cut with confidence. … His commitment to hard work this offseason has made the 5-foot-8, 210-pound running back a leading candidate to become the team's breakthrough player. … "Ray Rice, to me, is just one of the most exciting players to watch play football," linebacker Ray Lewis(notes) said.
We'll repeat ourselves, just to be clear: Do not sleep on Rice in fantasy drafts. His current Mock Draft Central ADP is 66.7, so he's buried in Willie Parker(notes)/LenDale White territory. Rice's situation is fantastic and he beats nearly every occupant of his tier on talent. Don't fear the committee; hugely productive fantasy backs emerge from job-share situations every year.
When you're drafting in the middle rounds, you can't afford to chase after predictable, brand-name, low-ceiling talents. Instead, get the guys who have a chance to emerge as an elite fantasy entities. You'll note that half the players in this year's first round were available in Round 3 or later in '08. Some of them – like DeAngelo Williams(notes), Matt Forte(notes) and Steve Slaton(notes) – were available much later in standard leagues. Rice is a clear candidate to be the DeAngelo of '09, if there's going to be one at all.
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