Looking ahead to the 2013 NFL season, Matt Vensel over the next few days will break down the five Ravens players worth drafting in your fantasy league and when you should draft them. Though they are worth picking up, he did not include the Baltimore D/ST or kicker Justin Tucker because they should go in the final two rounds.
The Ravens liked Bernard Pierce so much coming out of Temple, they traded up in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft to select him. He might have exceeded their early expectations for him in his rookie season.
Pierce's workload increased as the season went on, and during a couple of games in December and January he actually out-produced Ray Rice, his Pro Bowl-caliber teammate. He averaged 4.9 yard per carry as a rookie.
This offseason, Pierce was hyped up by multiple national media outlets as a potential breakout candidate in 2013, and there is chatter in fantasy football circles -- and reality ones, too -- about Pierce cutting into Rice's workload even more. Sure, Pierce should have a larger role, but make no mistake, Rice is still the team's best option out of the backfield.
2012 STATS: 532 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown on 108 carries. Seven catches for 47 yards. No fumbles lost.
2012 FANTASY RANKING: 49th among running backs in scoring with 63.90 points, based on NFL.com's standard scoring.
THE SKINNY: The Ravens liked Pierce because he was a bigger back whose running style would be a good fit for their zone runs, but even they were probably surprised by his burst and his wiggle in the open field. He proved to be a very effective change of pace from the smaller, shiftier Rice and he busted off a few long runs as a rookie. We will get a closer look at Pierce when training camp opens this week, but Pierce could be bigger and stronger than he was a season ago, making it even more difficult for defenders to try to drag him down.
BURNING QUESTION: Just how many carries will Pierce steal from Rice? Pierce's 108 carries in 2012 were exactly as many as Ricky Williams got as Rice's backup in 2011 and eight more than Willis McGahee got in that same role in 2010, so it's not like he was being used much differently than those other guys. But Rice is getting older, so the Ravens might want to ease the burden on his short but stout frame. Pierce will likely demand a bigger role than backups of years past, but a 50/50 split of carries is highly unlikely. The bigger question should be about whether Pierce will steal carries at the goal line. That remains to be seen.
WHEN TO PICK HIM: Pierce showed promise as a rookie and could one day be the starter here or elsewhere, but his fantasy value appears to be limited entering 2013. He will have some value if he ends up being that goal-line guy, but like I said, we don't really know about that right now. Go ahead and take a late-round flier on Pierce in case something should happen to Rice (especially if you draft Rice, too). He is worth rolling the dice on.