Prospecting — Digging Through The Ravens RB Core
As I stated last time, one of my favorite things in dynasty football is prospecting for gold by digging through murky situations to find fantasy contributors I expect to rise to the top over the next few years.
The running back position is often one of the best places to look for hidden talent because a player can step into a scheme and contribute immediately. To build off of my last article on the Patriots RB core, I am going to dig a little deeper into another team’s depth chart with the Baltimore Ravens running backs.
Age: 27 (1/22/1987) | 5’8″, 212 lbs | Free Agent: 2017
Before the 2013 season, Ray Rice was an aging but effective RB1 in PPR formats. Since his rookie year Rice averaged more than 4.0 yards-per-carry (YPC) and hovered around 4-5 catches per game. Between his efficiency in the running game and his effectiveness in the passing game, Rice averaged more than 100 yards from scrimmage on a per game basis after his rookie campaign. He was one of the top receiving backs in the league despite being underused at times during his career.
Then, sadly for Rice and all of his owners, the 2013 NFL season struck. While many thought Bernard Pierce and his strong showing during his rookie outing would damage Rice’s output, that was only the beginning of his worries. Rice’s usage throughout his college and pro career may have caught up with him, as did an overall down year for the Ravens offense and an offensive line that was over-matched on a weekly basis. Rice’s career low average of 3.1 YPC is indicative of this drop off, but what about his career low in yards-per-reception (YPR) of 5.5? Prior to 2013, Rice’s season low average in YPR was 7.8. I believe this drop-off is more indicative of Rice’s usage catching up with him and his body breaking down than the impact of surrounding variables.
While Rice is only 27-years-old entering this season, he is up to 1600 touches just from the regular season in addition to heavy usage from his time in college. The tread is coming off of Rice’s tires and he is likely no longer going to be used as the workhorse for an offense, heavily diminishing his value both in 2014 and long term. Once you throw in his impending suspension and less than ideal fit in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme, I am staying away from him.
Age: 24 (5/10/1990) | 6’0″, 218 lbs | Free Agent: 2016
Pierce was expected to take his share of the pie last season as the Ravens were going to try to lighten Rice’s load and preserve him moving forward. Pierce had his share of opportunities as he improved his carries by almost 50% from his rookie season. Sadly, there was not a matching increase in production as Pierce’s YPC fell from a very good 4.9 in 2012 to a miserable 2.9 in 2013.
Pierce was banged up and suffered behind the same mediocre offensive line as Rice, but he enters 2014 with some hope in that he is a much better match for Kubiak’s system and is a much younger running back. I am still hesitant to give him my full endorsement as I am always skeptical of running backs that cannot maintain health even in a backup role. Pierce always seems to be nicked up and I do not believe he could last as a bellcow.
Age: 28 (10/14/1985) | 5’8″, 194 lbs | Free Agent: 2015
While Forsett is currently top reps behind Rice due to Pierce’s off season shoulder surgery, there isn’t much to get excited about. Forsett is a 28-year-old change-of-pace back that will never be much more than that. His impact will be, at best, as the short side of a committee spelling someone like Pierce or my favorite of the bunch, Taliaferro. If you are rostering Forsett at this point, I’m sorry.
Age: 22 (12/23/1991) | 6’0″, 229 lbs | Free Agent: 2018
Lorenzo Taliaferro was the Ravens fourth round selection but was generally unheralded throughout the draft process. Lorenzo played for Coastal Carolina against weak competition, but did what he needed to do in such an instance — which was dominate. Taliaferro is more than capable in pass protection and will be able to excel in a zone blocking scheme system as he is similar in size to Arian Foster, bigger than Alfred Morris.
While size isn’t definitive, the point here is that Kubiak got a running back that matches those who have had the most recent success in systems similar to the one he will run in Baltimore. Lorenzo brings the fight to defenders once he starts downhill as he runs with a reckless abandon that will, at the very least, ensure he sees usage in short yardage and goal line situations. When you combine this power with his noted ability to pick up the blitz in pass protection I believe he will see the field and produce in short order.
Lorenzo’s price tag continues to be a bit deflated due to the general lack of hype leading up to the draft and the lower draft position. However, he has a very strong chance to produce in the future, if not this year (making him well worth the bargain prices). I have seen him go undrafted in 12 team leagues with 4 round rookie drafts. That simply should not be happening.
While Pierce and Rice are under contract well beyond this season, they have both been given the opportunity to take the lead for this team. Given Rice’s legal issues and his use catching up with him, I think this competition comes down to Pierce and Taliaferro. As I have stated, I don’t trust Pierce’s ability to stay healthy and he has already been given a shot. He is a holdover from the pre-Kubiak era, but did receive some Arian Foster comparisons when he came out of Temple. I think he will be given every opportunity to run away with the job, but I am much more intrigued by Taliaferro given his current price point.
Either way, Kubiak and the zone blocking system has shown that it can produce incredibly productive running backs of various pedigrees. You will want to own whoever comes out of this competition on top.