The Ravens are a team that has historically run the ball well. It used to be Priest Holmes, then Jamal Lewis, and now Ray Rice and Willis McGahee are the duo that makes the Ravens a very dangerous team on the ground. Both backs have the ability to run the ball downhill effectively, but their versatility is their main weapon. Rice and McGahee both turn the corner well and are both elite receivers of the ball out of the backfield.
Full positional preview after the jump.
2009 rushing yards leader: Ray Rice (1,339)
2009 rushing TD leader: Willis McGahee (12)
Starter: Ray Rice, 5’9”, 210 pounds, 3rd season in NFL-
Ray Rice may not be the most intimidating presence if you’re an NFL linebacker, standing only at 5’9”, but his talent probably makes most defenders soil themselves. A guy who’s got above-average speed along with a low center of gravity and a knack to stay on his feet all come together in a perfect blend to create Ray Rice. In his rookie season, the Rutgers product was a backup to McGahee and mostly made his presence felt by busting loose for long runs and big plays receiving the ball. Rice’s open-field moves kept defenders off balance, and he flashed signs of brilliance every time he touched the ball.
After getting stronger in the offseason, Rice impressed the coaching staff and won the starting job over McGahee, and the rest is history. Rice became one of the NFL’s best offensive players and put up 2,041 total yards, good for 2nd in the NFL among running backs, behind should-have-been MVP Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans. While his touchdown numbers were lower than McGahee’s, Rice’s impact was far greater on the offense. He led the team in receptions with 78, which was first among NFL running backs and astoundingly 19th among all NFL players. While fans are expecting another similar season from Rice, it may be hard for him to top his performance from last season. Regardless, he has proven himself as a legitimate NFL running back and if he replicates or betters his numbers from last season, Rice would have to be considered an NFL superstar.
The Backups: Willis McGahee, Jalen Parmele, and Curtis Steele
The Ravens pride themselves on depth at every position, and it’s no different at running back. McGahee is the main compliment to Rice, being one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL. He can catch out of the backfield as well as anyone, and he’s a great runner of the football. The main issue with McGahee is inconsistency. During his time with the Ravens, he’s been out of shape, injured, and at odds with the coaching staff. When he’s on his game, he’s as good as Ray Rice, but it’s always seemed tough for him to be consistent while he’s been wearing the purple. Recently, he’s been surrounded by trade talk, specifically him being sent to the Denver Broncos for a cornerback. While these talks have died down, McGahee is surely looking to silence his critics this season and come out strong for the Ravens.
Jalen Parmele is a project that the Ravens are working on, and for the most part, it’s turning out well. After a prolific career at Toledo, Parmele was drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2008. Seeing potential in him, the Ravens swooped him off of the Fins’ practice squad in December of ’08. Standing at 5’11″, and weighing a solid 220 pounds, Parmele isn’t the guy you’d expect to be a kick returner, but he is just that for the Ravens. He took over last season as the main guy returning kicks after Lardarius Webb went down, and he’s poised to win the job this season, at least until Webb is healthy enough to return again.
While I project Curtis Steele being placed on the practice squad, I’ll mention him in this article for information’s sake. An undrafted free agent out of Memphis, Steele ran for 15 touchdowns last season and has shown a good North-South running style while with the Ravens. He can change direction quickly and reads holes well, but he needs some major polish. If all goes well, he could take the Parmele route and become a contributor in a couple of years.
Watch out for tomorrow’s wide receiver preview.