Ray Rice: Examining Fantasy Impact of Potential Suspension on Ravens' Backfield

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMay 22, 2014

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) hands off to running back Ray Rice (27) in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)
Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

After winning Super Bowl XLVII two years ago, the Baltimore Ravens stumbled badly in 2013, in large part because of a horrible season from star tailback Ray Rice.

Now, as the Ravens try to bounce back in 2014, Rice is staring at a suspension from the NFL after an incident with his now-wife in an Atlantic City, and both the Ravens and fantasy football owners are left trying to peer through dark clouds of uncertainty while trying to figure out the Baltimore backfield.

Before we go any farther, obviously the events surrounding Rice entering a pre-trial diversion program (per ESPN) after being charged with assaulting his then-girlfriend are an incredibly serious matter.

The video of Rice dragging her unconscious body from an elevator (allegedly after knocking her out) is deeply disturbing.

With that said though, the pair have obviously reconciled (they're married now), the courts have had their say, the league will soon have theirs and we're talking about a player who was a top-five overall pick in many fantasy leagues last year.

Not that Rice played like one, of course.

Ray Rice 2013
* Fantasy Finish in Standard-Scoring Leagues

Rice's 2013 season was easily the worst of his career. His rushing and receiving yardage and touchdown totals were his lowest since his rookie year. His 3.1 yards-per-carry was the lowest of his career by over a full yard.

In the immortal words of Charles Barkley, Rice was turrible in 2013.

Now, as fantasy owners prepare for draft season, the question of whether Rice will bounce back from that faceplant is joined by the question of how much time Rice might miss due to a league-mandated vacation.

According to Rotoworld's Evan Silva, ESPN's Chris Mortensen (and the Ravens) think it may be a while:

Rice may have dodged jail time, but his odds of ducking the hammer from Roger Goodell are slim to none. Not with that TMZ video plastered all over the internet.

Two games is a reasonable expectation, and Rice should count himself lucky if that's all he gets.

Assuming Rice does miss time, third-year pro Bernard Pierce would be the next man up. Pierce showed some real promise as a rookie, but he didn't fare a bit better than Rice himself a year ago, averaging a paltry 2.9 yards a pop.

Bernard Pierce 2013
* Fantasy Finish in Standard-Scoring Leagues

Oh, and then there's the small matter of Pierce being out until at least training camp. That's the latest from head coach John Harbaugh in regards to Pierce's shoulder surgery, according to Ryan Mink of the team's website:

He's been allowed to move around a little bit, but we just can't risk him falling on it right now and having a setback. So, you're probably looking at training camp for him, which shouldn't be an issue as long as you don't get a setback.

Well this just gets better and better, don't it?

Behind Pierce is rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro and a pile of you don't want to know.

Frankly, this whole situation is turning into a fantasy mess. Rice is coming off an awful year, he will likely miss at least two games to start the year and has nearly 1,800 career touches worth of wear on his tires.

A Rice suspension could open the door for Pierce to steal the lead role in new coordinator Gary Kubiak's run-heavy offense. But, Pierce is coming off both a season every bit as rotten as Rice's and shoulder surgery.

Rice currently has an average draft position of the sixth round (RB22) at My Fantasy League. That ADP will drop as soon as any suspension becomes official, and if it reaches the point where Rice becomes available as a fantasy RB3 the potential reward present with the 27-year-old makes him worth the risk.

After all, Rice did post fantasy RB1 numbers four years running from 2009-2012 in most scoring systems.

As to the others, at this point it's nearly impossible to say, as it's just as likely that Taliaferro usurps Pierce on the depth chart in camp as it is that Pierce unseats Rice early in the season.

For my money? I'd rather burn a late pick on Taliaferro as a late "lottery ticket" than use a pick on Pierce. A power back with a bum shoulder playing in a backfield that's had no luck but bad luck of late?

Just doesn't sound like value to me.


Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.