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What the FF? The Decline of Ray Rice

The frustration of Fantasy Football owners is a peculiar mix of emotions. There’s a lot of un-warranted anger at millionaire athletes who don’t know you, don’t care about you, don’t owe anything to you, and even if they are currently underperforming, could destroy you in seconds. You watch in disbelief at the idiot coaches who don’t give the ball to your star RB1 at the goal line, instead repeatedly giving it to Mike Tolbert or Roy Helu to steal 6 points that you really needed this week. Then there’s the self-doubt that creeps in after you repeatedly stick with Dwayne Bowe week after week because he’s Kansas City’s best WR option, despite knowing in the back of your mind that Alex Smith can’t throw the ball more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and that all KC touchdowns come from either Jamaal Charles or the defense.

As we deal with these emotions on a weekly basis, Fantasy owners turn to the experts for guidance, hope, inspiration, and potentially a silver bullet waiver pick-up that will turn their season around. I will have a longer piece later this week evaluating the different expert projections, but my thoughts right now are focused on one of the more disappointing Fantasy players of this year: Ray Rice.

I’m not going to criticize Ray Rice’s performance (directly, at least) because I’m not sure I know what is really going on. I do know that Baltimore is going through a number of struggles on the offensive line and that they don’t have the offensive weapons they did last year on their run to the Super Bowl. But I also know that Ray Rice has had 4 consecutive seasons of at least 1600 yards from scrimmage and 6 touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per catch over that time. He’s only 26, so it is no surprise that he was considered a top fantasy option going into this year.

I am also convinced that his past performance is the main reason that a number of Fantasy Football projection sites have been so optimistic about his future performance week in and week out this season. Consider: over the last 4 games, Rice has had a total of 49, 72, 38, and 56 yards from scrimmage. Over that time, he is averaging a dismal 2.1 yards per carry; for the season, his average is only a slightly less dismal 2.5 yards per carry. He has scored in only two games this season, and those two games are the only games he has accumulated more than 6 (!) Fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring.

Yet, week after week I as I decide whether to play him or not (yes, I’m specifically picking on Ray Rice and not Trent Richardson, or C.J. Spiller, or others who are in roughly the same position, because I have him on my Fantasy team) I see projections from experts telling me to expect 10-15 points from Ray Rice this week. As recent as Week 9, most sites were projecting between 80 and 96 total yards and a touchdown from Rice, for 13-15 points. For Week 10, despite the mounting evidence against Rice being a worthwhile start, I still saw projections for Rice between 70-80 yards, and close to a touchdown. He got 56 yards on 24 touches.

I haven’t seen the algorithms that various projection sites use, and I’m sure that statistically they are valid. All they are doing is projecting future performance based on a number of past performance variables. From this perspective it is understandable that Rice, who has been one of the more consistent RBs in the league over the last half-decade, would still be expected to produce. But a dash of human realism should be included in these projections because there is no way in hell I’m starting Rice again until he hits 80-100 yards in three straight games.

Now that I’ve written this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rice puts up 140 yards and two touchdowns this week while he sits at the bottom of my bench. But I will leave you with one final thought: 2.1 yards per carry. That’s all the projection you need.