Ray Rice's Suspension Doesn't Matter Because He's Still Not Very Good
Last week, the NFL announced that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, arraigned on felony domestic abuse charges from April, would be suspended for two games of the 2014 NFL season for violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. This was a shockingly merciful decision on the league’s part for Rice himself, the Ravens, and even fantasy football owners, as Rice will still play from Week 3 onward.
However, Ray Rice still sucks.
Now, I’m not moralizing here. Unfortunately for you all, we at numberFire don't have metrics that measure one’s adherence to common sense and simple human decency. We do, however, have the ability to take a player’s performance on the football field and break it down into excruciating detail and find out just how great – or poorly – they have played.
So while those who lament the lack of talent at running back this year in their fantasy drafts are raising a curious eyebrow to the news of Goodell's bizarre leniency, I beg you: avoid Ray Rice at all costs this year.
A “Green Mile”
Using our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, I’ll help to show you why selecting Rice in fantasy drafts this year will make you “as lonely as a sparrow in the rain." NEP is a measure of how much a player advanced or detracted from his team’s chances of scoring – measured in expected points – on any given drive. For more on NEP, check out our glossary.
For our purposes, we'll be looking at three kinds of NEP: Rushing NEP, Reception NEP, and Target NEP. Running backs accumulate NEP primarily in these three ways; that is, via solely rushing plays, on plays resulting in a reception, and any play on which the player was targeted with a pass, respectively. To give context, Rushing NEP tends to be negative for running backs, as rushing plays are by nature much less efficient than passing plays at gaining yardage.
There’s no easy way to say this, so here goes: Ray Rice’s 2013 season was dreadful. It was beyond awful. Rice’s performance in Total NEP was so horrendous, he ranked as our 567th player overall. Just a fun fact, you can count the number of offensive players who didn’t outperform him in Total NEP last season on two hands: Matt Schaub, Josh Freeman, Chad Henne, Kirk Cousins, Geno Smith, Eli Manning, and Blaine Gabbert.
Let me put this another way. Rice’s -38.48 Rushing NEP last season ranked him – out of 140 running backs with at least one carry – 140th in the NFL. Since 2000, only 10 running backs with 200 carries or more have had worse seasons by Rushing NEP. That makes Rice’s 2013 season our 11th worst in numberFire history. In addition, if we examine Rice’s 2013 Rushing NEP per attempt (a measure of rushing efficiency; value per opportunity), we will find that this amount ranks an even more stellar sixth-worst among all running backs with 200 or more carries since the turn of the century.
All-Pro company there.
But it wasn’t always like this! We remember Rice’s value earlier in his career - surely all of that talent didn’t just evaporate.
O Rusher, Where Art Thou?
Ray Rice’s downfall was not a sudden tumble off of the cliff of production; this is true. Rather, his rushing value has remained fairly even through his entire career, excepting two spikes in production. The table below shows Rice’s rankings among running backs with more than 100 carries each season of his career.
|Year||Rushes||Rush NEP Rank||Rush NEP/ Attempt|
There are a few things to point out here, the first being that Rice’s reputation as merely a volume runner, thriving off of heavy workloads, may carry some water. In only one season was his Rushing NEP per attempt more than one rank above his cumulative Rushing NEP, indicating – in layman’s terms – what you see is what you get. Additionally, we see that his value has remained about even through his career: around the 30 to 40 range of rankings for running backs.
He did have two spikes, one in 2009 and 2012, however. Interestingly, those were his lowest workload seasons as the lead back, with 255 and 257 carries, respectively. One does have to wonder if the Ravens’ propensity to use their ball-carrier as a 350-touch battering ram actually is negative for his efficiency and health. We potentially saw the effects of that last season, as Rice missed significant time due to injury and looked horridly ineffective when on the field.
What we haven’t yet touched on, an important skill set for Rice, is his ability to catch the ball. Rice has always been one of the best receiving backs in the league, and the NEP numbers back that up too. Prior to last year, Rice finished outside the top 10 backs with 100 or more carries in Target NEP only two times in a season, and only once was he outside the top 10 in Reception NEP in a season.
In 2013, however? He was 44th in the league in Target NEP, and 34th in Reception NEP. Even this elite skill seems to be wearing thin for Rice.
While the entirety of the Baltimore offense collapsed last season, it does seem like Rice is on his last legs. Shocking, career-low production in every category we measure is not something you want to be an investor in for fantasy purposes, especially if his volume will be slashed by missing two games’ worth of action.
Add in the fact that understudy Bernard Pierce will have a chance to seize the starting job from under the nose of the ineffective Rice before he can get back, and that is a startling set of conditions for potentially your second fantasy back. Pierce himself was not effective either, but with the train wreck that was this team in 2013, the coaching staff may be willing to try whatever it takes. That will include benching Rice.
Even as the 26th running back off the board, according to FantasyFootballCalculator, and a late fifth-round pick, I don’t want to take Rice’s downside on. I’d much rather have Joique Bell's upside or Steven Jackson's steadiness a round later. I’d even take Pierre Thomas' increased opportunity two rounds later before I bite on Rice. No matter how you plead, Ray Rice is just not worth it in 2014, even if you can stomach having him on your roster in the first place.