Ray Rice's 2013 Season: Is He Done For?
They say all good things come to an end. But it seems like just yesterday Ray Rice was dominating the fantasy landscape and wouldn't ever slow down.
Well, of course he would eventually slow down, but we didn't think it would be at this rapid of a pace. Admittedly, running backs have the shortest shelf life of any position clocking in at just 2.57 years per career. Rice looked to be a player with enough talent to last well into, seriously, his 8th to 10th season.
But this year wasn't the best harbinger of a lengthy career. So it should be asked: Is he out of juice? What factors are leading to his torpedoed production?
Ray Rice’s year on the ground has been frustrating to say the least. Having gained more than 70 yards in a single game just twice all season, fantasy owners were left holding the bag if they burned even a reasonably high pick selecting the Baltimore Ravens running back in fantasy drafts back in late summer. He has totaled -through Week 16 - a meager 645 rushing yards on 207 carries averaging just 3.1 yards per carry.
His Rushing Net Expected Points total, which measures the impact a running back has had in terms of real point contributions, hasn't been any better than his raw statistics show. In fact, Ray Rice is currently sitting in last place in the Rushing NEP department. Dead last. 164th out of 164 running backs that have at least one carry.
And when you filter down and look at the 39 runners with 125 or more carries this year, he ranks last (obviously) with a Rushing NEP of -37.66, and second to last in Rushing NEP on a per rush basis.
This means that over the course of the 2013 season, when Ray Rice has carried the ball, he has cost the Ravens almost 38 points and loses about one-fifth of a point with each carry. We can compare this to an efficient runner like DeMarco Murray (0.14 Rush NEP per Rush) or Lesean McCoy (0.12 Rush NEP per Rush) to get an indication of just how painful this season has been for Ravens fans and Ray Rice owners. (For a more detailed explanation of Rushing Net Expected Points (RNEP), head over to the numberFire glossary.)
Keep in mind that Net Expected Points totals are always much lower for running backs than they are for quarterbacks and wide receivers due to the fact it's much more efficient to move the ball through the air than it is through the ground. To provide some perspective, Nick Foles and Brandon Marshall have Total NEP's of 116.53 and 114.74 respectively. You can see it's much easier for these positions to accumulate NEP than it is for even the most efficient running backs, and that's evident once you grasp the high-level concept of NEP.
A Woeful Offensive Line
Who is the lone player to have a worse per play Rushing NEP than Ray Rice? Interestingly enough, it's his teammate, Bernard Pierce (-0.22 R NEP/P).
That's why you have to look at the offensive line with both Ray and Bernard Pierce struggling. And, not surprisingly, Football Outsiders has the Ravens offensive line ranked dead last in almost every type of advanced metric that could be analyzed.
This includes Power Success (percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown), Stuffed % (tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage), Second-Level Yardage (Yards which this team's running backs earn between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries), and Open Field Yardage (Yards which this team's running backs earn more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries).
We don't have to just hypothesize that the Raven's offensive line has been flat-out horrendous this season. There are advanced statistics that prove this to be true. It wasn't always this bad, was it? Looking at the Ravens metrics over the past five seasons below, we see that the offensive line ranked in the top six in 3 out of 4 seasons (from 2009-2012), finishing ninth in the other season that was outside of the top six. The O-line definitely took a turn for the worse this season, and Rice's numbers followed suit.
|Year||Power Ranking||Stuffed %||Second Level Yardage||Open Field Yardage||Overall Run Blocking Rank|
With the Ravens offensive line providing next to no help to Rice, Pierce, and the running game in general, maybe Rice isn't in as dire a situation as we think. With some upgrades, he may be able to improve on his 2013 debacle.
Has Volume Caught Up?
Irregardless of the status of the offensive line, Ray Rice simply didn't look fresh at any point this season. Have the carries caught up with him? Ray Rice has already accumulated 1,424 career carries in the NFL (through Week 16 of 2013). This ranks ninth among active players. He also has 364 receptions to his credit which make his overall touch totals even more daunting.
Rice also had a staggering amount of carries during his tenure at Rutgers - 910 to be exact. In fact, he ended up leading the nation in 2006 with 335 carries and finished second in 2007 with 380. So despite his age, he's seen tremendous volume over his career.
Receiving and Its Impact on Rice's Value
A large majority of Ray Rice's value both from a fantasy perspective and real NFL perspective comes in the form of his pass-catching ability. It's clear that, when he has a big year receiving, his overall effectiveness in both categories seem to rise. Perhaps this season's lack of catching ability, again, has to do with the offensive line play, but a decline in his receiving game is another red flag regarding his future situation in Baltimore.
Let's take a look at how Ray Rice's Rushing NEP, Reception NEP and Total NEP Metrics rank when compared to other running backs who had over 125 carries in each respective season:
|Year||Rush NEP Rank||Rec NEP Rank||Total NEP Rank|
Bernard Pierce's Increasing Role
If it seemed to you that Bernard Pierce was cutting into Rice's snap count and usage this season, your intuition would be correct. Pierce's usage saw a dramatic uptick this year and this doesn't bode well for Rice's fantasy value. Pierce's numbers from 2012 and 2013 are below for reference:
|Year||Carries||% of Total||Receptions||% of Total|
|2012||108||29.59 %||7||10.29 %|
|2013||147||41.41 %||16||23.88 %|
Whether or not Bernard Pierce will be taking more receiving looks away from Ray Rice next season is something to be mildly concerned about, as he currently has 16 receptions to Rice's 51. There have been various reports about Bernard Pierce usurping Ray Rice's carries if he is indeed playing well enough and even people questioning whether or not the Ravens should significantly reduce Ray Rice's role in the offense.
Reason for Optimism?
Is there light at the end of the tunnel for Rice even with these existing issues? There were a few examples of players who had a poor season in 2012 and bounced back with a vengeance this year. The following table is sorted by the greatest change in Rushing NEP from 2012 to 2013 (through Week 16) in descending order.
|Player||2012 RNEP||2012 Rank||2013 RNEP||2013 Rank||RNEP Δ|
Interestingly enough, this year's top three in terms of Rushing NEP were ranked 20th, 26th, and 18th last season by the same metric respectively. Their efficiency increased dramatically this season and fantasy owners were rewarded handsomely. Could Ray Rice have a similar spike in production next season?
Well, yes and no.
While Ray Rice could potentially bounce back, it seems like the odds are not in his favor for a multitude of reasons. Whether considering the impact of too much tread on Rice's tires, his evaporating burst, or even Bernard Pierce's involvement, Ray Rice should be avoided in in next season's fantasy drafts unless significant upgrades are made to the offensive line, even if he can be had at a discount.