Debate Series: Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Ray Rice

by Tim Heaney and Bryce McRae on August 25, 2010 @ 12:11:42 PDT


Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

There's a reason he always tries to trade for himself in his fantasy football drafts. MJD knows he's a top commodity. You should, too. Jones-Drew's running, catching and touchdown prowess gives his owners double-digit points nearly every week.

You could say the same thing about Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, but you shouldn't say it with more authority than you would regarding this writer's choice.

  • Jones-Drew, 25, hasn't scored fewer than nine total touchdowns or hauled in fewer than 40 passes in any of his four seasons, even when he was splitting time with Fred Taylor until 2008. Among non-quarterbacks, MJD ranks second to LaDainian Tomlinson in offensive touchdowns scored from 2006-2009. Jones-Drew's career highs in total touchdowns (16) and rushing yards (1,391) were nearly a natural growth in his work increase, and the bowling ball (5-foot-7, 208 pounds) can endure juggernaut work.
  • Player name
    MJD is Team Heaney's choice
    Jacksonville's offense runs through Jones-Drew. MJD led the NFL in red zone touches last year. Though the Jags' passing game has a chance to improve with Dirk Koetter calling the plays again in 2010, David Garrard is a game manager with little upside. Regaining health on their O-line along with experience from second-year offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton should only bolster an already stalwart run-blocking unit.
  • The Ravens' offense is diversifying with wideouts Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth aboard. Derrick Mason is still there, too. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron traditionally leans toward the pass, and quarterback Joe Flacco is on the brink of breaking out.
  • Don't forget about Willis McGahee (or maybe Jalen Parmele) around the goal line. Rice had just eight total touchdowns last year, and with Boldin's acquisition, that's another red zone weapon.
  • So what? Rice still catches ample passes out of the backfield. Well, he did last year, when the Ravens' leading receivers after Rice's 78 catches were Mason (73), tight end Todd Heap (53) and then on down to the 30s. Boldin will eat into those targets, and Flacco should become a more vertical passer. Not to say Rice won't have ample catches, but the likelihood isn't as strong for 2010.

Many question Jones-Drew's week-to-week consistency, mainly because in '09 he scored eight of his 16 touchdowns within three games. Quick, take notes. MJD: topped 100 offensive yards eight times in the 15 games that count in most fantasy leagues

    • recorded 80-plus yards 13 times
    • scored at least one touchdown 10 times
    • nabbed at least three receptions 11 times.

Still think he's erratic?

Closing argument: The consensus top four picks would each be a prime foundation for any fantasy football team, but if Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson are off the board (or, in some cases, if just AD is), there's no more stable back in the league than MJD. With the flurry of backfield committees arising, you can't ignore the Jacksonville MJDs - err, the Jaguars running back.

Rice was a top-notch value pick next year, but his price now carries more downside. Minimize risk with your first-round pick. In both standard and point-per-reception setups, MJD has less downside, a better statistical situation and more established skills than Rice.

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens

During the 2009 offseason, Rice was one of Baltimore's hardest workers. The second-year back then catapulted into football prominence with 1,339 rushing yards, 78 receptions and 702 receiving yards last year.

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Bryce likes his Rice with sprinkles

As the 2010 offseason has progressed, Rice, again, has been one of the top workers in Baltimore. This time, though, you won't be able to snag him at a value in the draft. You'll likely need to burn a top-four pick on him. That could mean passing on a back such as Maurice Jones-Drew. Here's why you should do just that.

  • In '09, Rice failed to reach 100 total yards in a game only four times. He caught four or more passes in 12 games. Rice scored seven times on the ground, but the Baltimore rushing attack managed 22 rushing TDs as a group. Willis McGahee, their leading touchdown threat, managed 12 of those, but he has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason.
  • Just another point on Rice's '09 season: He compiled over 2,000 total yards (2,041, to be exact). He needed only 254 carries to reach 1,339 yards - MJD needed 312 to reach only 1,391 yards. Rice's 78 receptions and 702 receiving yards were more than Jones-Drew has ever had in a season.
  • Rice was one of the hardest workers in the offseason. He bulked up some in an effort to be a stronger presence between the tackles. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron doesn't give him a lot of the high-impact running, instead bouncing him to the outside and letting him work in space. Not only does this make him more dangerous, it helps limit the pounding he takes.
  • Cameron likes to pass the ball, and he has a new toy to utilize in wideout Anquan Boldin. Almost as much as Cameron likes passing the ball, he likes tossing it to the running back. Rice's 78 receptions last year, LaDainian Tomlinson's 100 receptions in '03 with the San Diego Chargers, LT's 79 in '02 - Cameron hasn't shied away from utilizing his backs when he has a dangerous receiving threat.
  • This offense could explode this year. Quarterback Joe Flacco looks primed to jump to the next level. Boldin gives their passing game, arguably, its best target. Wideout Donte' Stallworth adds another deep threat. All of this should open up the offense, and Rice is still their top weapon - they're going to make plenty use of him. Plus, do you really want the guy surrounded by David Garrard, an injury-prone Mike Sims-Walker, a sophomore Mike Thomas and a questionable offensive line, or do you want a guy in an offense that could be among the league's best?
  • The Jags' offense revolves around Jones-Drew, yes. Last year, Rashad Jennings, a rookie, was second among their backs with 39 touches. This year, Jennings is more comfortable in the offense and could easily steal more touches.
  • Did Jones-Drew wear down last year? In Weeks 13 through 16, the crucial part of the fantasy season, he managed only three total scores and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. He eclipsed 100 total yards in a game just once in that stretch. Now, 2009 was his first year carrying a full load (eight games of 20-plus carries). Fast forward to this offseason, Jacksonville hasn't let him run much this preseason (six carries for a loss of two yards), and they do have a stronger running back corps, overall.

Closing argument: Can you really go wrong in the first four picks? It's tough. If you're picking third overall, in most cases, it should boil down to MJD or Rice. Tough choice.

Why do you want Rice? Well, say you're at an ice cream stand. Do you want to go with just plain vanilla (in this case, MJD), or do you want to throw a few extra toppings on there, increase the potential for satisfaction you might get from that treat?

Both Rice and Jones-Drew are fairly safe, but if you're going with the safe pick, as you should in the first round, why not go with the guy that gives you more potential, too?

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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