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This Year’s Ray Rice?

My pick as this year’s Ray Rice is Felix Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. In terms of role, situation and average draft position (ADP), Jones’ 2009 campaign nearly mirrors Rice’s 2008.

Two years ago as a rookie for the Baltimore Ravens, Rice rushed for 454 yards on 107 carries (4.2 average). Rice also showed his versatility by pulling in 33 balls for 273 yards. While Rice was learning the Ravens offense in 2008, runningback Le’Ron McClain toted the rock for 1,023 total yards and 11 touchdowns. Last season, the Ravens seemingly fazed McClain out of the game plan (321 yards, two touchdowns) as the multi-talented Rice posted 2,000 total yards and eight touchdowns. Rice’s touchdowns were often vultured by the bigger Willis McGahee (12 total), but Rice made his bones with his work in between the 20s. Rice’s 2009 ADP of 4.05 made him a great value and a championship piece in 12-team leagues. I see a similar trend emerging for Jones this season.

Like Rice, Jones took roughly the same amount of carries in his second season in ‘Big D.’ Jones logged 116 carries for 591 yards (5.9 average) while grabbing 19 passes for 119 yards (6.3 average). However, Jones showcased his explosive potential during the playoffs. Against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Divisional round, Jones torched the Birds for 178 total yards and a score. In a very physical matchup against the Minnesota Vikings’ stout defense, Jones logged 91 total yards. Jones logged 30 additional carries during the playoffs, roughly 20 percent of his total season output. In addition to the increased workload, Jones had five plays of 40-plus yards in only 169 touches.

Chris Johnson
had 10 plays of 40+ yards in 408 touches
. Do you think Jerry Jones wants his explosive back ever sitting on the sidelines? Well, Wade Phillips named Jones the starting runningback this spring. Jones apparently put on 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason and has looked even quicker during organized team activities. However, don’t expect Jones to instantly transform into a 25-plus touch ‘bellcow’ back.

Like Rice, Jones will need to account for his backfield mates. Marion Barber dealt with a late-season, pesky quad injury last season that limited him. Over the final seven weeks of the Cowboys’ season, Barber averaged more than four yards per carry in only one game.

How about Jones? Six games.

Could this be the opening that Jones needed?

Regardless of situation, Jones proved last season that he was the more explosive player. During prior years, Barber excelled as the Cowboys’ closer, the runningback that would gash tired defenses late in the second half. Barber also has a great nose for the end zone, scoring 24 rushing touchdowns since 2007. Call me crazy, but using Jones in between the 20s and Barber in the red zone seems like a great plan for the potent Cowboy offense. Sounds like the Ravens rushing attack, right?

While Jones’ late-season explosion and preseason hype seems great, we know that Tony Romo and the passing game will get their numbers. Last season, Romo threw for 4,483 yards and 26 scores. In terms of offensive output, the Cowboy offense was the second best in the league (399.4 yards per game). The rushing offense (131.4 yards per game) and passing offense (267.9 yards per game) each ranked within the Top 7 in the league. Needless to say, defenses will not be able to load up against either the pass or run, giving Jones plenty of room to rumble. But, do all of the critics think Jones will break out in 2010?

Many will cite that Jones has never been a true workhorse back. Darren McFadden carried most of the load at
Arkansas and Jones has been spelled by Barber and Tashard Choice in

. But does Jones really need 20-plus ‘work horse’ touches per game to appropriate his value? Jones averaged 7.6 yards per touch with the Razorbacks and right around six yards per touch last year. Leg injuries have also limited Jones in the past, but like Rice’s counterparts, expect Barber and Choice to keep the explosive ex-Razorback fresh.

I think it’d be ridiculous to predict a 2,000-total yard season for anyone outside of the Big 4 (Rice, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson). A 2,000 total yard season for even any of these players would be impressive. By no means do I think Jones will take off for a 2,000-yard campaign in 2010. However, Jones’ big-play potential caught my attention late in the season. If Jones gets 250-300 touches this season, he could rack up anywhere from 1,300-1,600 total yards. Given Jones’ current ADP of 5.01, I’m calling him ‘Ray Rice-lite’. Give me his explosive upside in the fifth round over the oft-injured and pedestrian Ronnie Brown (4.07) and Matt Forte (4.10).

Fantasy Sharks Projection:
1,025 total yards, 7 TD

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