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Fantasy Fodder: Why Rice looked like a top-five back

Ray Rice was both a reality and fantasy football difference-maker in Sunday's 35-7 win over the Steelers. He rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and added four catches for 42 yards and a score.

The pint-sized powerhouse set the tone for the Ravens offense with a 36-yard run on the team's first play from scrimmage. But it was two plays he might not have gotten an opportunity to make a year ago that made him one of the top fantasy performers in Week 1 -- and that also suggest that more touchdowns are on the way.

Play No. 1: Late in the first quarter, with the Ravens facing 3rd and Goal at the 1-yard line, Rice plunged into the end zone for six points. A year ago, Willis McGahee or Le’Ron McClain would have been handed the ball there, even though Rice is better suited to be a goal-line back because of his unique combination of strength, elusiveness and acceleration. With those two gone, Rice could score double-digit touchdowns.

Play No. 2: As the Ravens tried to extend their lead back to two touchdowns at the end of the first half, the Ravens again needed to convert on third down. It was 3rd and 6 at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line, and instead of putting someone else out there to pass block inside the 20 -- it might have been McGahee a year ago -- the Ravens went with an empty backfield and Rice lined up wide on Joe Flacco’s left. Rice beat Lawrence Timmons on a “jerk” route and finished off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown catch.

Rice has always had the skill set to be an every-down back and he proved in 2009 and 2010 that he is able to handle the workload. Now McGahee and McClain are gone, leaving no one to vulture his touchdowns. That’s great news for fantasy owners, and it should be great news for the reality Ravens, too.

I told you Steven Jackson would rumble over the Eagles: Too bad he suffered a quad injury after he ran for a 47-yard touchdown and was knocked out of the game. That’s the kind of injury that could bother Jackson for a while, so Jackson’s primary backup, Cadillac Williams, became a hot commodity on the waiver wire. Chances are Cadillac has been picked up already -- sorry for the belated Fodder post this week; I was on Orioles duty Tuesday -- but if he is still available, claim him, especially if you own Jackson.

It wasn’t a good week for NFL secondaries: Fourteen quarterbacks passed for more than 300 yards in Week 1. Four had 400-plus. And Tom Brady had 517 (I told you I liked his matchup against Miami). My guess is it will turn out to be an anomaly, but it does back up something I always preach before the season: If you can’t land one of the top quarterbacks who do it every week, you’re better off waiting until the middle rounds to draft your guy.

Fantasy penthouse: Tom Brady (517 passing yards and four touchdowns), Ray Rice (149 total yards and two touchdowns), Steve Smith (178 receiving yards and two TDs) and Scott Chandler (63 receiving yards and two scores) were your top fantasy performers stat-wise. Raise your hand if you started Chandler.

Fantasy doghouse: Ben Roethlisberger (five turnovers), LeGarrette Blount (five carries for 15 yards), Dwayne Bowe (17 receiving yards) and Owen Daniels (one catch for 13 yards). Thanks for nothing, guys.

The wire: Once again, my apologies for the delayed Fodder post. Chances are the good guys such as Cadillac Williams are already scooped up. But here are some names to consider: Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson (Marques Colston is out for a month), Ryan Fitzpatrick (he could become a must-start every week), Ben Tate, Deion Branch, Fred Davis, Jordy Nelson and, if you’re feeling frisky, Cam Newton.

Five guys I really like this week: 1. Rex Grossman (if Newton can throw for 400 yards against Arizona…). … 2. Michael Turner (if the Falcons don’t fall behind by double digits for a second straight week, he will have a big day). … 3. Cedric Benson (he’ll get you 100 yards, even if it takes 30 carries). … 4. Dwayne Bowe (he should exploit Detroit’s secondary if the Lions make this another shootout). … 5. Vincent Jackson (he should bounce back, too).

Reader question: I need to be proactive and ask for questions before sitting down to write this. Somebody remind me next Monday. But as always, I’m here to help if you need it (contact info is below).

Extra point: I’m trying really hard to not read too much into one game -- especially because I think the Ravens will be run-oriented -- but I might have undervalued Joe Flacco as a fantasy passer. If you’re a Ravens fan, chances are you didn’t let him sit out there on the waiver wire. But if he is available, you can certainly do worse than Flacco as your No. 2 QB with the potential to become a top-10 point producer.

Matt Vensel is a blogger and community coordinator for The Baltimore Sun. Send your fantasy questions and comments to, @mattvensel on Twitter or leave them in the comments section below.

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