Fantasy Football Spotlight: Ravens Running Back Ray Rice

Chris DiLeoCorrespondent IMay 19, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 18:  Running back Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against linebacker James Farrior of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC championship game on January 18, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

In fantasy football, it's always good to have plenty of running back depth. 

As a fantasy draft winds down, the available talent at the running back position becomes minimal. It's here where getting a good value can really provide depth and  security to your starting lineup.

I believe the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice will be a good late-round pick up this year.

Rice played well as a rookie in 2008: He emerged as the third-down back and played very well in the three games Willis McGahee sat out due to injury.

In three games without McGahee in the lineup, Rice rushed for a respectable 259 yards on 54 carries (that's an average of 4.8) while splitting time with backfield mate Leron McClain. Rice also added 10 receptions for 55 yards in those games.

Reports out of Balitmore's camp indicate that Rice is fully healed from a shin injury that caused him to miss the final three regular-season games last year. Also, coaches have hinted that Rice may be given an expanded role in the offense.

There is no doubt that Rice has an excellent opportunity to earn more playing time. He is currently running with the first-team offense as McGahee continues to rehab ankle and knee injuries suffered last season. Willis is actually not expected to return to practice until the beginning of August, giving Rice plenty of practice time with the offensive starters.

In addition, McClain has now been moved to fullback to replace the departed Lorenzo Neal. This will certainly mean a significant decrease in touches for McClain as he becomes the new lead blocker for the Ravens.

At 5’8” and 205 pounds, Rice doesn't possess the size of an ideal goal-line running back, and has yet to score his first NFL touchdown. Regardless, I think he's a tough runner with good strength and has potential to score in the red zone. 

At the college level, he rushed for 3,806 yards and scored 44 rushing touchdowns in his last two seasons at Rutgers. He proved to be a true workhorse for the Scarlet Knights, and I believe, given the opportunity, he can also do it at the NFL level.

Many people said Maurice Jones-Drew was too small, but he has proven more than capable of scoring short-yardage touchdowns. He and Rice are similar in stature.

While McGahee is currently slated to return as the primary running back for the Ravens, his history of nagging injuries and chronic attitude problems could open the door for Rice to step into the starting role, making him a potential late-round fantasy gem.

On a final note, the Ravens did draft a versatile running back in Cedric Peerman from Virginia.

While I believe he is a talented player, Peerman will likely be considered a project and will be given a chance to contribute in the return game on special teams mostly.

Taking everything into consideration, I will be targeting Ray Rice in the later rounds when I am looking to add solid depth to my running back corps. I believe he will take advantage of the opportunity given to him this offseason and prove himself capable of being the Ravens’ featured running back. 

Worst-case scenario, he will continue to contribute on third down, giving fantasy owners a solid emergency depth player, since he is the best receiving running back on the team.