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Fantasy Football: Responding to Ray Rice's recess
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for his offseason domestic violence incident, but the shocker is how short the unpaid holiday will be. The veteran running back -- coming off his worst season as a pro -- will miss just two games. I'll spare you the (tempting) editorial about just how ridiculous that is in comparison to recent suspensions for non-violent offenses.
In Rice's two-week absence, running back Bernard Pierce will fill the void, likely in some tandem role with either veteran Justin Forsett or rookie rusher Lorenzo Taliaferro. Pierce was fully cleared this week after missing the entire slate of offseason activities recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder. The 24-year-old Pierce shed some weight, checking in at 223 pounds on his 6-foot frame, down from the 230 he played at in his first two seasons.
Pierce is an adequate receiver out of the backfield, but he isn't Rice in this department. The Ravens' third-year man is coming off a largely forgettable 2013 campaign, in which he managed just 2.9 yards per carry behind a wretched offensive line. A healthier, deeper front five, along with the addition off zone-blocking guru Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator, injects optimism into this backfield, particularly for Pierce's prospects.
Fantasy football outlook
The downside of losing Rice has been mitigated not just by the brief vacation but also by the opponents he won't face. Missing divisional tilts with the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers -- both in Baltimore -- to kick off the season is not such a bad thing. Cincy should remain stout against the run, and Pittsburgh is on the rise on D.
Rice will get a short break after training camp and preseason play, allowing him to be as fresh as possible for his return against the Cleveland Browns. Eight weeks later Rice gets another breather with the bye week -- nice spacing for an elder back.
Baltimore's schedule for running backs is really nothing short of brutal, but Rice is a receiving machine and figures to see more work through the air to create mismatches in space. Pierce, should he play admirably in the first two contests, could earn a larger role. Kubiak is not shy of using multiple backs, and common sense says the Ravens are intensely aware of Rice's age and diminishing athleticism; Pierce is likely to have a season-long role, somewhere in the neighborhood of his 152 carries from a year ago.
Expect Rice to be better than he was last year, and the same goes for Pierce, but measuring their anticipated improvement is tough. The value gained by drafting Rice late because of uncertainty surrounding his status is no longer available, so unless you can land him at a veteran discount, focus your RB2 attention elsewhere. Pierce gets a slight bump in your rankings to become a weak RB3 for the speculative types or a sound fourth choice to help fill out a roster.
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