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.
Ravens running back Ray Rice was a top-five pick in most fantasy leagues last year and probably cracked the top three in a large percentage of those leagues. He didn't disappoint with another rock-solid fantasy season.
Rice once again averaged more than 100 yards from scrimmage per game and scored 10 total touchdowns. He scored double-digit fantasy points in 11 of his first 15 games of the season (he barely played in the season finale, so hopefully you weren't in some crazy league that had its championship that week). And he was voted to his third Pro Bowl in four seasons (no, you don't get points for that, but I figured I would point it out anyway).
There has been talk about a decreased workload for Rice, who is 26 years old and entering his sixth NFL season. I suspect that will lead some full-time fantasy football analysts to drop Rice in their preseason fantasy rankings. But if you are looking for a sure thing in the first round of your draft, few players are more reliable than Rice, especially in PPR leagues.
2012 STATS: 1,143 yards rushing, 479 receiving, 61 catches, 10 TDs (nine rushing and one receiving), no fumbles lost.
2012 FANTASY RANKING: Sixth among running backs in scoring with 222.10 points, based on NFL.com's standard scoring.
THE SKINNY: While Rice rushed for at least 1,000 yards for a fourth straight season -- he is one of just three NFL backs to have done it in every season since 2009 -- his 1,143 rushing yards were his lowest since his rookie year. He was pretty potent, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, but he had just 257 carries after getting 291 in 2011 and 307 in 2010. Still, Rice is a rare back who can stay on the field in all situations. He can be a workhorse, he can get it done at the goal line and he is a great receiver, making him a lock to be a first-round fantasy pick.
BURNING QUESTION: How much will Bernard Pierce cut into Rice's workload? That remains to be seen. But all indications are that the second-year back out of Temple will receive more carries than he did in his rookie year, when he rushed for 532 yards and a touchdown on 108 carries. Rice will still be the lead back, but the question fantasy players should worry about is whether Pierce will steal goal-line duties from Rice like Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain did in the past. I'm guessing he will a little, but Rice should still be the guy there, too.
WHEN TO PICK HIM: Rice is worthy of a top-five pick in standard formats and a top-three pick in PPR leagues. When picking that high in the draft, it's all about personal preference, but I could make an argument about taking Rice over every other running back not named Adrian Peterson. Still, I suspect the fears about Pierce cutting into his workload will cause Rice to drop out of the top five picks in some leagues. If you are picking sixth or later in your draft and Rice remains on the board, scoop him up in a hurry and celebrate later.