Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
No longer the fashionable top-five pick he has been in past fantasy seasons, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has fallen to the ninth pick in the latest fantasyfootballcalculator.com statistics.
But Rice, while no more the "it" pick, is probably the most consistent performer not named Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster and could be undervalued as a late first-round selection.
If you are averse to taking a big gamble with your first draft choice, Rice is likely your best option, particularly in PPR leagues.
Let's take a look at Rice and some of your other first-round options.
Since taking over the primary running back role in 2009, Rice has never rushed for less than 1,143 yards or caught fewer than 61 passes for 478 yards. Over that four-season span his average season is 1,266 yards rushing and 610 yards receiving.
How many running backs in the NFL do you confidently think can produce 1,876 yards from scrimmage?
Last season only two running backs reached that production level: Peterson and rookie Doug Martin. (Note: wide receiver Calvin Johnson did it, too.)
And while Rice hasn't been known as a touchdown-maker, he has posted 25 scores over the past two seasons which corresponds to when Willis McGahee left for Denver. With many currently enamored with backup Bernard Pierce, Rice is still the main guy in Baltimore.
Therefore in Rice you have a player who you can reasonably trust to give you close to 1,800 combined yards and double-digit touchdowns.
If you draft Jamaal Charles, C.J. Spiller, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy or Trent Richardson (all going off the board before Rice) how sure will you be that your selection will top what we have seen Rice produce on a yearly basis?
Charles certainly has the talent to produce big numbers, but he's also a gamble due to health concerns. Can the 27-year-old take the pounding given that new coach Andy Reid is expecting to significantly increase his workload? The Chiefs tailback has only cracked 1,800 combined yards one time (2010).
Spiller, like Charles, has crazy-good talent, but has never carried the ball more than 216 times in a single season either with the Bills or in college at Clemson. Buffalo offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett recently was quoted as saying the Bills are going to run Spiller "until he throws up." Fantasy owners must be concerned as to whether he can play all 16 games at a 300-plus attempt workload.
We don't have that question with Lynch. The Seattle tailback carried the ball 315 times last season (1,590 yards) and a total of 600 times over the past two campaigns. And they were "hard carries." Lynch isn't the kind of back to scamper out of bounds, as he frequently tries to run through linebackers and defensive backs and not around them.
But fantasy owners have to worry that the Seahawks' offense is too one- dimensional, particularly with the loss of newly-acquired wideout Percy Harvin. Can the threat of a gimpy Sidney Rice or Golden Tate keep defenses from putting up nine-man fronts?
Seattle has two nice youngsters behind Lynch on the depth chart in Robert Turbin and Christine Michael, who could steal a portion of those 600 carries.
Drafting McCoy will not be for the faint of heart. He's got a new coach with a unknown offense, he's coming off an injury-filled season and he's got company in the backfield in both a talented second-year back Bryce Brown and veteran Felix Jones. Despite being an excellent pass receiver and screen man, McCoy has never posted more than 1,672 yards from scrimmage in the NFL.
Richardson, a second-year back with Cleveland, spent most of 2012-13 playing at less than 100 percent. And he's already missed some training camp time with a shin injury. On the other hand, he's the only viable running back option for the Browns, who have yet to prove they have an NFL caliber passing game. But his 1,317 yards from scrimmage last season is well below Rice's expectation.
The bottom line is that it appears that each of the backs selected immediately preceding Rice have question marks that are as big or bigger than any concerning the Ravens' starting tailback.
In Rice you may not get a monster season, but you also won't get the disappointing one. He's the "safe" play.