Considering that Rice's average draft position in ESPN fantasy football drafts was 5.9, he has to rank as one of the most disappointing picks this year.
Still, before deciding if we're going to cut bait with essentially our franchise player—I picked him too— let's take a look at the mitigating factors surrounding his lackluster start to the season.
Seeing that Rice has missed time or been limited in three games on account of the strained hip flexor he suffered in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns, the most obvious elixir for Rice's woes is to stay healthy.
Nonetheless, you have to question if Rice's injury was simply a fluke injury or a result of him being overworked going back to his days at Rutgers.
This was an issue Alexander Diegel of RantSports.com raised in comparing Rice's workload to a similarly overused back, Eddie George:
As we again look back to college, that makes six out of seven seasons when Rice accumulated at least 318 hard-earned runs and catches. To compare with a Pro Bowl back of the not-too-distant past, Eddie George, the poster boy for over-worked running backs, had six such straight seasons (including college) before he saw a precipitous drop off in production. George never again averaged over four yards per carry after his age 26 season.
Even with that said, I'll still give Rice the benefit of the doubt on the injury front and chuck up his injury to a fluke occurrence. With zero games missed the past four years, and only three in his career, he's earned that much.
Lost in the cloud of doubt surrounding Rice's injury is the solace owners can take in the fact that Bernard Pierce didn't capitalize on his absence.
Yes, he did salvage a double-digit fantasy game in his lone outing as a starter, but sans the goal-line touchdown he had, he was a non-factor.
Seeing that Rice himself has 26 career scores under 10 yards, it's doubtful that Pierce will have many opportunities to score touchdowns of the goal-line variety going forward.
With that said, it appears that the only hurdle keeping Rice from regaining fantasy supremacy is his offensive role.
While you'd think that in the aftermath of your quarterback throwing five interceptions, you'd in hindsight run the ball more, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh felt no such regret.
Via ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, Harbaugh stated the following about his team's lackluster showing running the ball against Buffalo:
I just felt like we weren't running the ball well enough to win the game running the ball. Looking back on it, I feel the same way.
Since Baltimore only rushed the ball a franchise-low nine times in its 23-20 loss to Buffalo, his quick hook on the running game doesn't bode well for Rice's fantasy prospects, as a ball-carrier that is.
Courtesy of CSN's Bo Smolka, Harbaugh consented to a by-any-means-necessary approach in getting Rice the ball on Wednesday:
We need to get Ray involved in every single way - pass game, run game, every single way. It’s definitely going to be important for us. We want to do that every week, and obviously, we did not do a good job of that last Sunday.
Verdict: Even though I'm typically an advocate for trading underachieving running backs at the first sign of trouble(see here), the ominous signs of age, injury and a diminished role that are typically associated with a running back's demise, aren't prominently featured with Rice.
My advice, hold on to Rice and show a little faith—he does play on Sundays after all.
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