Rice looks like top running back prospect
Posted Jan. 18 at 01:29 PM
For my final positional preview, I’ll take a brief look at the running backs. I’ll toss out a few ideas, and then we’ll see where the guys fall.
In hindsight, this whole thing was kind of done backwards, and I apologize. The usual process around here is to take a careful look at each offense, project out the numbers, and then see what’s there at the end. As a look at the running backs (their receiving production, for example, or the run-pass mix of each offense), it may cause me to slightly change my rankings of that team’s other players.
Contents may settle, as they say. I’ll post overall, final all-position stat projections at the end.
I like Frank Gore. He’s a bruising, tough running back, and he’s going up against a soft Atlanta defense. The Falcons allowed 4.8 yards per carry during the regular season.
Now the Falcons, as you might point out, played really well against Marshawn Lynch last week. But there are a couple of differences. They went into that game with the goal of shutting down Lynch. That’s important. And there’s also the Kaepernick factor. The way Kaepernick ripped up the Packers last week on the read-option, I’ve got to figure Atlanta is going to be all over the idea that it can’t let him get outside as a runner. That should loosen up the inside of this defense nicely for Gore to pound away.
Gore ran for 119 yards last week. He averaged 76 rushing and 15 receiving yards in the regular season. Kaepernick is also a threat to run for touchdowns, of course, but Gore has scored in 6 of his last 7 games. I’m thinking he’ll probably run for something like 90-100 yards and a touchdown in this game. The Falcons allowed 16 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, the most of any of the teams still play (Atlanta actually allowed more touchdowns rushing than passing). The 49ers have scored just as many touchdowns rushing as passing in their last seven games.
LaMichael James has great speed and big-play ability, but I don’t think he’ll play that much. He had only 3 carries against Green Bay.
Michael Turner looked great against Seattle last week, busting tackles and whatnot. He looked like the Turner of a few years ago.
That’s great, and I’m happy for him, but the reality is that he’s a 30-year-old back who’s lost a lot of speed and power. In 11 games this year, he’s averaged under 3.4 per attempt. I don’t see him doing much in this game.
Turner might not even be Atlanta’s best back. Jacquizz Rodgers averaged more total yards for most of the season. Including receiving production, Rodgers averaged 7 more yards in the final 10 games. (Rodgers beat Turner 26-5 as a receiver, while Turner won 45-31 in rushing yards.)
Atlanta ran for the fewest yards and fewest rushing touchdowns of any of the remaining teams in the regular season, while San Francisco’s defense allowed the fewest. The averaged numbers work out to 91 yards per game, with just 19 rushing TDs in 32 games. The other three TD run totals are 40, 33 and 27 – way ahead of Atlanta.
Atlanta has scored almost 3 times as many touchdowns passing (35) as rushing (12), while San Francisco’s defense has allowed almost three times as many (21-8). At best, Atlanta has maybe a 60 percent chance of rushing for a touchdown.
Rather than hoping for Turner to punch in a 1-yard touchdown, the smarter play might be to hope Rodgers catches a bunch of dumpoff passes and finishes with 20-30 more yards.
The Patriots have the most compelling backfield. They led the NFL with 25 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, and they could have three different backs involved. Stevan Ridley ran for 1,263 yards and 12 TDs in the regular season, and when they want to go to more of a spread look, they can stick Danny Woodhead or Shane Vereen out there.
The Patriots don’t tend to pass to their running backs much. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I believe that year in and year out, they tend to rank in the bottom 10 in passes to running backs. Danny Woodhead caught 40 passes and 3 TDs in the regular season, but the rest of their running backs combined caught only 16 passes. So it was a shocker last week when started passing to their running backs extensively – and after Woodhead left the game very early.
Vereen caught 5 passes for 83 yards and 2 TDs. And Ridley even caught a pass. He’d caught only one pass in his previous 14 games.
So where to from here? Woodhead (thumb) will be available, so they’ve got all three backs.
I don’t think they’ll come out and throw to their running backs again. That’s not what they tend to do, and now the Ravens are aware of that possibility. Combined, I think Woodhead and Vereen will catch 3-4 passes (with 3 more likely than 4).
The Patriots do like to spread out defenses at time. Such an approach would play in favor of Vereen and Woodhead. Those guys fit better in that kind of system. When New England lost the 31-30 shootout in Baltimore in Week 3, there was lots of spread. Ridley didn’t play all that much, and I had to contend with some nasty emails from readers.
On the flip side, think back to the AFC Championship last year. Baltimore played lots of nickel and dime coverages, so the Patriots used BenJarvus Green-Ellis more than usual and he had one of his better games. He carried 15 times for 68 yards.
It’s a chess match type game, and I think we’ll see a variety of moves, counter moves and looks. I’m slotting Ridley as their best rusher, but he’s not a pass catcher. And while he’s their most likely scorer, Ridley has been healthy for all 17 games yet has scored only 13 of the team’s 27 rushing touchdowns. Brady, Woodhead and Vereen have each run for 4. And Vereen now is playing more than he did during the regular season.
Baltimore’s run defense wasn’t particularly good in the regular season, but it’s healthier now. The offense-defense numbers (the averaged numbers) indicate 129 rushing yards, with 40 TDs in 32 games. That’s the ballpark area to start at.
Ray Rice is the biggest star of the remaining running backs, and he’s the best run-catch threat. He averaged 76 rushing and 31 receiving yards in the regular season, with 11 TDs.
Recently, they’ve been spelling him more with Bernard Pierce (who’s a nice looking rookie), but I think it will be more of a full-time type game for Rice this week. Pierce hurt a knee at Denver and didn’t practice on Thursday. He was limited on Wednesday. With Pierce gimpy, I think this is Rice’s show.
Rice is going against a good New England run defense. They’ve got Vince Wilfork in their, plugging up the middle. The Patriots allowed 9th in run defense in the regular season and allowed only 10 rushing TDs. So straight off the numbers, Baltimore projects to rank 3rd in both yards (11) and rushing touchdowns (27 in 32 games).
But Baltimore has been hitting on those big, downfield haymaker passes. That might loosen up New England’s defense. And get Rice in space and he can gobble up yards in a hurry. He’s always a threat on those little dumpoff passes.
Rice destroyed the Patriots in a playoff game here three years, scoring a long touchdown on the first play and then finishing with 159 yards and 2 TDs.
His body of work against New England since that time:
Rice versus Patriots, 2010-
Year Run Rec Tot TD
2010 88 38 126 0
2011 67 11 78 0
2012 101 49  150 1
My gut tells me maybe 70-80 rushing yards and about 30 yards as a receiver. Rice scored 10 TDs in the regular season; he scored 12 TDs last year. Combined, that’s 22 TDs in his last 32 games. The Patriots allowed 10 rushing touchdowns in the regular. Sounds like maybe a 70 percent chance he gets in the end zone.
So putting numbers to all the guys, it works out to something like this. I’ve got three lists. First is simply yards. Then there’s touchdowns. The bottom list combines the two into fantasy points, using the scoring system of 1 point for every 10 yards and 6 points for touchdowns.
RUNNING BACKS -- TOTAL YARDS (Run + Pass)
110 Blt. Ray Rice (79 run, 31 rec)
108 S.F. Frank Gore (90, 18)
73 N.E. Stevan Ridley (70, 3)
52 Atl. Michael Turner (46, 5)
48 Atl. Jacquizz Rodgers (26, 23)
45 N.E. Danny Woodhead (23, 22)
42 N.E. Shane Vereen (28, 14)
28 S.F. LaMichael James (21, 7)
20 Blt. Bernard Pierce (19, 1)
17 Atl. Jason Snelling (3, 14)
8 S.F. Bruce Miller (2, 5)
7 Blt. Vonta Leach (2, 5)
6 S.F. Antony Dixon (5, 0)
4 N.E. Brandon Bolden (3, 1)
2 Atl. Mike Cox (0, 2)
2 Blt. Anthony Allen (1, 1)
0 S.F. Jewel Hampton (0, 0)
0 Atl. Antone Smith (0, 0)
RUNNING BACKS -- TOTAL TOUCHDOWNS (Run + Pass + Ret)
.64 Blt. Ray Rice
.63 S.F. Frank Gore
.54 N.E. Stevan Ridley
.43 Atl. Michael Turner
.35 N.E. Shane Vereen
.32 N.E. Danny Woodhead
.19 Atl. Jacquizz Rodgers
.15 S.F. LaMichael James
.10 Blt. Bernard Pierce
.09 Blt. Vonta Leach
.09 Atl. Jason Snelling
.06 S.F. Bruce Miller
.05 S.F. Antony Dixon
.02 Atl. Mike Cox
.02 N.E. Brandon Bolden
.01 Blt. Anthony Allen
.00 S.F. Jewel Hampton
.00 Atl. Antone Smith
RUNNING BACKS -- FANTASY POINTS
14.9 Blt. Ray Rice
14.6 S.F. Frank Gore
10.5 N.E. Stevan Ridley
7.8 Atl. Michael Turner
6.4 N.E. Danny Woodhead
6.2 N.E. Shane Vereen
6.0 Atl. Jacquizz Rodgers
3.7 S.F. LaMichael James
2.7 Blt. Bernard Pierce
2.2 Atl. Jason Snelling
1.3 Blt. Vonta Leach
1.1 S.F. Bruce Miller
0.9 S.F. Antony Dixon
0.5 N.E. Brandon Bolden
0.3 Atl. Mike Cox
0.2 Blt. Anthony Allen
0.1 S.F. Jewel Hampton
0.0 Atl. Antone Smith
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