Ray Rice ready to embrace a decreased workload in 2013
Rice is a workhorse, a bell cow, a true feature back - but fans (and fantasy football team owners, especially) may have to get ready to see a decreased workload for Rice in the upcoming season.
Rice has proven his exceptional durability, but has racked up 1,527 touches during his five years in the NFL. Even the most durable of running backs break down at some point, and it is generally those who handle monster workloads that end up getting injured. If the Ravens want to maximize on Rice's sensational talents, it may be wise to limit his short-term workload in an attempt to maintain his effectiveness for the long-term.
What makes this an easier decision for the Ravens is that they have a fantastic backup in Bernard Pierce, who was the 84th overall pick in last year's draft. Pierce was everything the Ravens could have hoped for in 2012, playing in all 16 games and turning 108 rushing attempts into 532 yards on the ground - good for a 4.9 yard average. Pierce posted even better numbers during the playoffs, rushing 39 times for 202 yards (5.2 yard average) during the Ravens' Super Bowl run.
It is widely expected that Pierce will be a bigger factor in the Ravens' backfield this season, as he has plenty of talent himself, and the Ravens don't want Rice's heavy workload to catch up with him. When asked about ceding some touches to Pierce, Rice didn't seem to have a problem with a new formula in the backfield. "Bernard's a great backup, and he's a great runner," Rice said. "Going into our game plan, it's hard to prepare for - you know, two guys that can come at you, rather than one."
Having invested $35 million in Rice last summer, the Ravens will not want to overuse him. With Pierce looking like a legitimate NFL-caliber runner, the team does not have much of a reason to push Rice too hard. Rice is likely to remain a top-5 fantasy running back, but barring an injury to Pierce, he will likely max out at 240 carries - he has averaged 277.25 carries per season since becoming the starter in 2009.
It is worth noting, however, that Pierce is not much of an asset as a pass catcher, which keeps Rice's stock higher in PPR leagues. Pierce caught only 19 passes during his three years as the feature back at Temple University, and caught just eight passes during 20 games (regular and postseason) as a rookie in 2012. Rice has averaged 69.5 catches per season since 2009.