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Is There a Bad Choice: MJD vs. Ray Rice

First – Chris Johnson! Second – Adrian Peterson! Third – Ra… Maur… and then the water gets murkier. With most fantasy “experts” claiming that the first and second picks will be Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson, respectively, many fantasy owners aren’t sure what to do with that third pick. Right off the bat, they think, “How can you go wrong with either of these top players: MJD or “Little” Ray Ray?” Interestingly enough, this early in the draft, such a pick can make you or break you.

First, let’s start by looking at their head-to-head stats from the 2009 regular season:

Maurice Jones-Drew
(Jacksonville Jaguars)
Ray Rice
(Baltimore Ravens)
Carries: 312 Carries: 254
Rushing Yards: 1,391 Rushing Yards: 1,339
Rushing TDs: 15 Rushing TDs: 7
Receptions: 53 Receptions: 78
Receiving Yards: 374 Receiving Yards: 702
Receiving TDs: 1 Receiving TDs: 1
Fumbles: 2 (1 lost) Fumbles: 3 (3 lost)

Looking at the numbers the one stark difference between the two backs was the TD differential of eight, which resulted in Jones-Drew scoring 25 more fantasy points than Rice in ESPN standard scoring leagues.  Other than that the numbers seem to favor Rice overall. Despite having about a game’s worth of touches less (33), Rice was able to put up almost identical rushing yards as well nearly doubling the receiving yards. In point per reception leagues (PPR), Rice was an absolute beast last season.

Rice might not get to 15 TDs this season but his ceiling is quite high. With the Ravens off-season moves working towards providing quarterback, Joe Flacco, with more weapons than he has had in the past (Anquan Boldin & Donté Stallworth), some of the attention will be taken off of Rice. The Ravens might be the deepest they’ve ever been at the WR position, which will give Rice a lot of space to get into the open field and make big plays, something he was very good at last season. Some might say that the addition of new receivers will prove to be a detriment to Rice’s receiving game but Rice will continue to be Flacco’s safety net. His ability to catch out of the backfield and make something out of nothing is on par with the best of them.

He should be able to punch it in to the end zone a bit more this upcoming season as well. There were a handful of times where he broke off a big gain only to be stopped right before the end zone. Cue Willis McGahee and another TD stolen. Now while there’s no guarantee he will score more, the opportunities for him to do will be there.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars focused on improving their defense this off-season, drafting multiple defensive linemen (probably in another futile effort to stop Peyton Manning and the Colts). They didn’t add too many pieces on the offensive side of the ball and the game plan for the Jaguars this season will be more of the same, MJD getting a lot of touches.

Both players have soft parts to the schedule as they both have games with the Bills and the Browns (Rice vs. Cleveland twice). The Jaguars also get the Chiefs and Raiders while the Ravens will play the Bucs. There were times last year that MJD was mediocre or just plain bad against some of the weaker defenses in the league (re: Seattle – Week 5, Buffalo – Week 11, and Houston –  Week 13).  Rice wasn’t a beast all season but his down weeks were mostly early in the season and due to the lack of touches he received. As the season went on, Rice was given the rock more and was able to do some damage.

[media-credit name=”Elsa | Getty Images” align=”alignleft” width=”213″][/media-credit] [media-credit name=”Kathy Willens | AP ” align=”alignright” width=”260″][/media-credit]Now onto the most important part, how can this pick make you or break you? Picks in the early rounds will write the script for your team. If your team winds up in the playoffs, it will be, more often than not, players in the first few rounds that brought you there and give you a chance at a championship. Therein lays the difference between Rice and MJD.

When the 2009 season was winding down so was Jones-Drew’s play. He was only able to have a dominant fantasy game once in the last five weeks of the season. That was the shootout vs. the Colts in week 15, where Indianapolis decided it would be better to rest, in some capacity, many of their defensive players such as Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Much of this was due to the fact that 2009 was the first season that MJD was the full time starter receiving the bulk of the Jaguars carries. More of the same is likely to happen in the 2010 season and while Jones-Drew will be more accustomed to the toll being an every down back takes on his body, the Jaguars don’t have a “Fred Taylor”-esque player to help carry the load.

Ray Rice, on the other hand, was more than serviceable down the stretch last season including two stellar performances in his last five weeks, one of those being championship weekend. With Rice going into his third year, he’s now got a firm grasp on this offense and he’s hoping to build off of last season. The touches may increase, the yards may increase, and the fantasy points may increase. The table is set for Rice to do big things in 2010.

In the end, MJD and Rice are very similar players. They are both “little” backs who find holes and pile up the yardage all season long en route to great fantasy seasons. They both also have the ability to catch out of the backfield and follow their blockers for big gains. To sum up the difference between these two players we’ve seen what MJD did last season and we can’t really expect better than that. On the other hand, Rice will be the fresher back at the end of the season when you need your big guns to really step up. Is MJD a terrible pick? Absolutely not, but he’s also not the best available choice.

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