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The (Coming) Ray Rice Panic of 2013

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice

Economic panics collapse economies, often starting with well-coiffed business people hurling themselves out of 19th story windows in downtown financial districts.

That’s probably an overreaction to the coming Ray Rice Panic of 2013. But it’s coming, and you should get ahead of the whole anxiety-driven thing this offseason. And if you absolutely must throw yourself out of a window, do so from one story, not 19.

There’s not much precedent for what Rice has done this postseason. I’m not referring to his production, which has been fairly pedestrian, but rather his team’s playoff run. Truly elite fantasy (and reality) running backs rarely make the four-game postseason run that Rice has made with Baltimore.

The reason is simple: Teams built around top-flight running backs don’t win Super Bowls. Quarterbacks win Super Bowls.

Take a gander at recent Super Bowl teams. There’s nary an elite runner to be found. Rashard Mendenhall, on the losing end of Super Bowl XLV, might be the closest comparison to Rice. Mendenhall was fantasy’s eighth highest scoring running back in 2010 on the strength of 324 carries, the fourth most in that season. Mendenhall racked up 65 touches during Pittsburgh’s playoff run and never looked quite the same.

Rice, who has 68 touches through three playoff games, could approach 85 postseason touches barring injury (or reversion to Cam Cameron’s play calling) in the Super Bowl. Many of Rice’s 249 postseason rushing yards (3.9 yards per carry) have been of the tough, inside variety, with Rice absorbing plenty of contact on grinding three and four yard slogs.

It might be instructive to put Rice’s postseason usage into perspective. Here’s a list of backs who led the league in postseason touches since 2008.

2008 – Willie Parker: 70 carries, 2 receptions
2009 – Shonn Greene: 54 carries, 1 reception
2010 – James Starks: 81 carries, 3 receptions
2011 – Ahmad Bradshaw: 63 carries, 16 receptions

As was mentioned during my Jan. 30 appearance on the Dynasty Football League podcast, Rice keeper league and dynasty owners would much prefer their stocky little bulldozer kicked back on a beach.

There’s also the Baltimore coaching staff’s love for Bernard Pierce, a rookie who has flashed serious agility and breakaway speed in his limited—but increasing role—as Rice’s backup. Head coach John Harbaugh has offered glowing praise for Pierce over the past couple months, and Pierce has shown what he’s capable of in his 32 playoff carries, gaining 5.7 yards per tote. Pierce outgained Rice in last month’s AFC Championship, even while fighting a nagging lower leg injury.

It’s crystal clear that Pierce would be a borderline top-12 running back if Rice – that indestructible Muscle Hamster, Sr. – ever went down.

Rice’s usage was down in 2012, as he carried the ball 254 times, a drop off from his 291 carries in 2011 and a steep fall from his 308 totes in 2010. Rice just turned 26, so we’re not watching an elite running back on the precipice of the dreaded age 29 or 30 season.

Tacking on another quarter of a season to any workhorse running back is going to have an impact. Whether that impact shows itself in 2013, I don’t think any Rice keeper or dynasty owner should discount testing the market over the next few months.

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