Call me crazy but I think Bernard Pierce could challenge Ray Rice for the Ravens’ starting running back spot.
Yes, this season.
Rice and his wife Janay addressed the Baltimore media Friday regarding their February 14 altercation in Atlantic City, NJ. Rice did most of the talking and expressed his regret and apology to the Ravens organization and to his fans.
In my opinion, the Ravens will not suspend Rice. However I do believe a six game suspension from the NFL isn’t out of the question. Roger Goodell doesn’t play games. He sets a clear standard that detrimental conduct won’t be tolerated. Regardless of the number of games, a suspension is very likely.
Besides filling in for Rice, I think Pierce could win the job outright. I know Rice has the better career stats and I know Pierce is nursing a previously torn rotator cuff, but head coach John Harbaugh expects Pierce to be ready to go for training camp.
Assuming both players are healthy at the start of the season, which one should start?
Since 2012 (when Pierce entered the NFL), Rice has been Baltimore’s starting running back in 31 of their 32 regular season games. In those games, Pierce has gained only 43 percent of Rice’s yardage (1,119-2,602), but Pierce has been given only 48.6 percent of Rice’s touches (287-590).
Both backs were nicked up in 2013, so let’s focus on the 2012 season. Pierce ran better (4.9 yards per carry) than Rice (4.4 yards per carry). On the flip side, Rice was better in the passing game (7.8 yards per reception) than Pierce was (6.7 yards per reception).
Even going back to their college days, both Rice and Pierce played equally well. In his time at Rutgers Rice averaged 5.4 yards per carry, 9 yards per reception and scored 50 touchdowns (49 rushing, 1 receiving). When Pierce played at Temple he averaged 5.4 yards per carry, 9.4 yards per reception and scored 54 touchdowns (53 rushing, 1 receiving).
What’s more detrimental to Rice is the absence of fullback Vonta Leach. For so many of Rice’s big plays, Leach led the way. Now he’s no longer on the team. Many of Pierce’s biggest plays have come out of the single-back set.
Regarding Baltimore’s new offense, it seems to me like Pierce is a better fit. He’s a glider and excels at the stretch run. His stiff arm is powerful, his balance around the edge is fluid and he maximizes yardage.
Am I saying that right now Pierce is better than Rice? No. I’m saying by the time training camp ends, Pierce will have made a strong case to at least split touches with Rice.
Rice is earning 16-times more money than Pierce is, but he’s only gaining half of a yard more than Pierce since 2012 (on average).
At some point you have to refuse to let salary dictate playing time and evaluate your young players by giving them substantial touches. In my opinion, that time for Pierce begins this September.
Let’s see what he’s got. If he’s not up to Rice’s standard, you’ve done your due diligence. If Pierce earns and sustains the starter’s role, you’ve increased the asking price for any teams that want to make a trade.
At the very least, it’s worth a shot.