Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce

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I’ve seen a lot of worry in draft lobbies about Bernard Pierce crashing down this season to destroy the career of Ray Rice.

Now, I’m no alarmist. Ray Rice finished 6th last year in standard scoring, with 222 points. He was the best running back in 2011 with 296 standard points. Rice was 9th in 2010 and 4th in 2009. This is only Rice’s 6th season and he’s been money so far. In the last four seasons he has 33 touchdowns, 5066 rushing yards and a 4.5 career YPC. Rice has also caught 278 balls in the last four seasons (69.5 per season) for 2,440 yards and another 6 TDs, making him a PPR monster. Rice has missed only 3 games in the past 4 seasons and none in the last two. In my mind, I have no reason not to trust Ray Rice.

Despite the consistent production, people are openly doubting Ray Rice. The main reason for this fear seems to be the talent of Bernard Pierce.

This is not without some reason. As a regular season rookie, Pierce carried the ball 108 times for the Ravens, gaining 532 yards and a TD on the ground, and caught 7 passes for 47 yards. During the Baltimore playoff run, Pierce got another 39 carries and gained 202 yards for an average of 5.18 YPC. Of his 532 regular season yards, 123 of them came in week 15 against the Giants on 14 carries, a game where Ray Rice also rolled to 158 total yards and a TD. In comparison, Lamar Miller, who is widely expected to break out this season, picked up 250 yards and 1 TD on 51 carries. In total, Pierce had near triple the carries of Miller last year and attained the same level of production. In 20 games, Pierce carried the ball 147 times for 734 yards and a TD, averaging a clean 5.0 YPC. Keeping a talented player like that on the bench is difficult.

An important element to consider for the 2013 Ravens is a whole season of Jim Caldwell at the OC controls. Impressively, Caldwell came to Baltimore with three games left in the regular season and won a super bowl. Look at the numbers for both Rice and Pierce during the seven games that Caldwell was OC.

 

Rice

Standard Scoring

PPR Scoring

Opponent

Pierce

Standard Scoring

PPR Scoring

TouchesYardsTDS

Touches

YardsTDS
12

38

0

4.1

7.1

Broncos

5

20

0

2

2

3

3

0

Rec

0

0

0

24

107

0

21.8

27.8

Giants

14

123

0

12.3

12.3

6

51

1

Rec

0

0

0

3

5

0

0.5

0.5

Bengals

22

89

0

9.3

10.3

0

0

0

Rec

1

4

0

15

68

0

11.5

12.5

Colts

13

103

0

10.3

10.3

1

47

0

Rec

0

0

0

30

131

1

19.1

19.1

Broncos

5

14

0

1.4

1.4

0

0

0

Rec

0

0

0

19

48

1

13

16

Patriots

9

52

0

6

7

3

22

0

Rec

1

8

0

20

59

0

7.8

11.8

49rs

12

33

0

3.3

3.3

4

19

0

Rec

0

0

0

Totals

Yards

TDs

YPT

 FPPT

TOTALS

Yards

TDs

YPT

 FPPT
123

456

2

3.7

 0.47

RUSH

80

434

0

5.4

 0.54
17

142

1

8.4

 1.2

REC

2

12

0

6

 0.06

 

In the way that Caldwell and Harbaugh used these two players, Rice has the obvious advantage in receiving and scoring use. Pierce really makes his case in rushing efficiency. An average of 3.7 YPC for Rice is a little worrisome compared to Pierce’s 5.4. Rice’s ability out of the backfield makes up the gap.

Rice averaged 17.6 carries in those 7 games and would have averaged 10 PPG in standard and 12.4 PPG in PPR. Pierce had 40 fewer total carries than Rice, averaging 11.4 per game, but Pierce gained nearly the same amount of rushing yards as Rice. Caldwell ended with a 1.75 Rice to Pierce carry ratio, though week 17 skews the stats a little as it was a rest week for the starters. Under Caldwell, Rice generated 0.47 fantasy points per carry and 1.2 fantasy points per catch (2.2 PPR). Pierce posted a better 0.54 fantasy points per carry but a pitiful 0.06 per reception. At these same rates Rice would score just over 200 standard points with 250 carries and 70 catches and Pierce would score 109 points with 200 carries and 20 catches.

So how will Jim Caldwell use these two players in the coming season? While he was the head coach of the Colts, he did not run the ball much. Granted he had Peyton Manning at the helm so they were bound to throw a lot but the Colts rushing attempts ranked 31st in 2009, 28th in 2010 and 29th in 2011 – the season that Manning was injured. Caldwell also increasingly spread those carries around. Joseph Addai had the bulk of the carries in 2009 but in 2010 the carries looked like this:

 

RB

 

TOTALS

Yards

TDs

Brown

Carries

129

497

2

 

Receptions

20

205

0

Addai

Carries

116

495

4

 

Receptions

19

124

0

James

Carries

46

112

6

 

Receptions

9

63

0

Hart

Carries

43

185

1

 

Receptions

6

25

0

Rhodes

Carries

37

172

0

 

Receptions

1

4

0

 

 

And 2011 went like this:

RB

 

TOTALS

Yards

TDs

Brown

Carries

134

645

5

 

Receptions

16

86

0

Addai

Carries

118

433

1

 

Receptions

15

93

0

Carter

Carries

101

377

2

Receptions

5

18

0

 

Rice and Pierce have shared 203 total carries under Caldwell, about 30 carries a game. At that pace in a 16 game season, they would combine for 480 carries – splitting 275 for Rice and 205 for Pierce. That workload ain’t too shabby and isn’t really an unreasonable target. In the last five years, the Ravens have been a heavy rushing team. Note the 2012 season did feature a more balanced attack.

 

Ravens

R. Att

Rank

P. Att

Rank

2012

444

12th

560

15th

2011

459

8th

544

18th

2010

487

6th

491

24th

2009

468

8th

510

25th

2008

592

1st

433

30th

 

Also of note, in the 3 years that Caldwell was the head coach of the Colts, the team topped the league in the passing game (duh, Peyton Manning), except in 2011 when Caldwell had to lean on Curtis Painter. The whole time, the Colts were consistently at the bottom of the league in rushing attempts.

 

Colts

R. Att

Rank

P. Att

Rank

2009

366

31st

601

2nd

2010

393

28th

679

1st

2011

382

29th

534

21st

 

This is an interesting intersection – where a rushing team meets a coach with a heavy passing background. Caldwell would have to call near 100 more running plays per season than he did in Indy to keep with the Baltimore history, and this season he does have two extremely talented runners at his disposal and a passing offense suddenly lacking in proven targets. A logical man would build around the run game – a la Houston with Foster and Tate. So far under Caldwell, the Ravens have run 203 rushing plays and 235 passing plays. Flacco threw well with those opportunities, completing 58% of his passes for 1737 yards, 15 TDs and only 1 INT. A full season of the same play calling would produce 537 pass plays and 464 run plays – 34 and 29 per game.

Just for fun let’s say Rice keeps with his career averages and Pierce with his. With 250+ rushing attempts Rice would end 2013 with around 1200 yards and 8 TDs. Work as a receiver could net 70 catches for 600 yards and another TD. Under this scenario Rice would be good for another 225+ standard point season and near 300 in PPR. Last year was a down year for Rice and he still finished 6th among RBs. As a part of the Ravens offense, Rice has provided a very consistent asset to fantasy owners, coming in 5th in Tristan Cockcroft’s 2012 consistency rankings and 3rd in his 2010-2012 analysis. Given that Rice isn’t very old and Harbaugh will heavily utilize the Ravens most reliable offensive weapon both to move the chains and in scoring positions, I think Rice will keep up much the same production this year.

I suppose another question to ask is: Will Pierce become a reliable fantasy option if his workload increases? Foremost, being the handcuff to Ray Rice provides a solid foundation in value. As a runner, Pierce has less data to look at and is harder to speculate on but with 175-200 carries we could see upwards of 800-1000 yards and 4-6 TDs. That’d be pretty damn good production for his current late ninth round ADP and would merit a solid flex play. A more conservative estimate of 150 carries would still provide good scoring opportunity but probably not a week to week starting position unless you play in a deeper league.

I don’t think Rice’s value will take a hit this season but I do believe that Pierce’s will increase. Rice will already be on the field a lot as both a proven runner and maybe increasingly as a receiver, as the Ravens have mentioned. At times Rice and Pierce could both be on the field together, with Rice in the slot and Pierce as the primary runner. Somehow Baltimore has to replace the loss of Pitta and Boldin and luckily they have two very talented runners waiting. Caldwell, being a QB minded coach, might choose to throw anyway. He will certainly want Flacco to justify his Scrooge McDuck money bin of a contract.

Slightly concerning are the 1,109 totes that Rice has notched in the last four years. The Harb-well administration could intend to shift some of the load to Pierce but I believe that Rice would produce enough with his increased role as a receiver to nullify that. I don’t buy the demise of Ray Rice. My gut says Rice will continue to be studly and this year Pierce will make his name in tandem. Either way the Ravens are loaded at the spot should make excellent use of these two. I think Pierce is a good deal at his current ADP and Rice provides good value in a standard and great value in PPR leagues.



  • __KJ__

    And right on cue, Bernard Pierce was diagnosed with a left knee sprain today. Doesn’t look like it will keep him out of any regular season games though