Each year a handcuff darling ends up getting extremely over-drafted, while we assume the running back ahead of them will break down and at the very least, they would provide flex value. In 2012, Jacquizz Rodgers and Ben Tate were poster boys for the trend, who went back to back at 28th and 29th overall. We can’t help it; it’s human nature to be drawn to the unexpected, to unlimited potential. Last year, that strategy didn’t work out; that doesn’t mean that it can’t be effective. In 2013 redraft and in dynasty, Bernard Pierce is my number one handcuff target. His situation and metrics make him more valuable than the Ronnie Hillmans and Bryce Browns of the world.
Ray Rice is considered by the fantasy football community to be a top 5 pick, no doubt stud. However, over Rice’s last 3 seasons he has had a whooping 410, 414 and 411 touches. The amount of work that Rice has had is shocking. For comparison’s sake, Rashard Mendenhall had 412 touches in 2010 before entering his steep decline. In the latest post season, Rice’s yards per carry fell all the way to 3.6 from his 4.4 season average and he lost 2 fumbles during the playoffs. Per Pro Football Focus, Rice’s Breakaway% fell from 35.6 in 2011 to 24.9 in 2012; Perhaps Rice’s most significant regression came in Yards Per Pass Route Ran. PFF reports that Rice posted 1.91 yards per pass route ran in 2011 and it fell all the way to 1.4 in 2012, behind such luminaries as Willis McGahee and Ronnie Brown. It’s worthwhile to note that Cam Cameron has historically relied heavily on the running back in the pass game; it is uncertain weather Jim Caldwell will use Rice as much as Cameron did. Rice is only 26 years old, but the lifespan of a relatively small NFL running back is short and some metrics indicate that the might be slowing down. It isn’t inevitable that Rice breaks down this year, but given the heavy tread on Rice’s tires, it isn’t unreasonable to assume a decrease in effectiveness.
The Ravens have every reason to limit Rice; Limiting wear and tear on Rice while giving the explosive Pierce complementary touches makes sense. Pierce has proven to be a stud at every level of football evaluation. Starting with physical measurables, Pierce is really impressive, posting a 4.45 40 time, faster than NFL stud’s Doug Martin, Ladainian Tomlinson and Marshawn Lynch, among others. Using Football Outsiders’ Speed Score formula, Pierce scores 111.18, which is above above the average of 100 and very close to the Speed Score of the average first round running back, which is 112. It’s rare for a back Pierce’s size to be both as fast and as physical as he is. Throughout the entire 2012 season and postseason, Pierce averaged 3.4 yards per attempt after contact, per Pro Football Focus, trailing only Adrian Peterson and C.J Spiller, who averaged 3.9 and 3.6 in the same split. Ray Rice averaged a measly 2.3 yards after contact per attempt. While Pierce’s playing time was limited, there is not a metric that exists that paints his performance in a less-than-extraordinary light.
Pierce had a Breakaway % of 35.3 which puts him in the top 10 of all running backs who received at least 25% of their teams carries; Combined with his impressive Speed Score and ability to power through contact, that picture of Pierce as an incredibly effective runner starts to take shape. Averaging 5 yards per carry through 147 carries is pretty impressive, especially when contrasted with Pierce’s contemporaries. Bryce Brown averaged 4.9 YPC but put the ball on the turf 4 times in his 115 carries; Hillman was only able to gain 3.9 yards per carry on his 85 attempts. David Wilson averaged exactly 5.0, the same Pierce. Wilson, however, has serious usage concerns, as PFF notes that Wilson was only allowed to pass block 6 times and was blown over for quarterback hit on of his 6 attempts. Wilson literally cannot be trusted to know the Giants playbook, which is why he lost playing time to the likes Kregg Lumpkin. Pierce, on the other hand, was at least given the opportunity, getting a chance to block 26 times and allowed 4 pressures. Bernard Pierce is more talented in more facets of the game than any of the other young running backs he is grouped with.
Pierce is most likely underrated due to his small college background. He was still impressive while at Temple, however. In 2011, his final college season, Pierce gained 1,533 yards from scrimmage and scored a whooping 27 touchdowns; despite these impressive statistics, he has not been held in the regard as his peers. Pierce was a 3rd round selection, and he didn’t have the injury situation that created attention for Brown and Hillman; fantasy owners acquired and started Hillman and Brown. Pierce didn’t have that same situation. He also didn’t have the first round selection attached to Wilson. For his entire career, Pierce has flown below the radar. This has created a unique situation for his acquisition in all formats.
As of right now, Pierce is being drafted with the likes of these plays; Ben Tate, Ronnie Hillman and Bryce Brown. The numbers indicate that Pierce is more talented than all of these players. There is a real shot that he is better than Ray Rice, who has been a consensus top 5 running back for years. Pierce is playing behind Rice who has had over 1,200 touches in the last 3 years and when given an opportunity, has absolutely shown. Pierce is being valued on the same level as talents who did not prove themselves the way he did. There is a unique opportunity in dynasty leagues to target to Pierce, or select him in redraft in the 9th or 10th round when he has a real shot at RB3 numbers, even in a timeshare. Winning a league can hinge on one incredible selection and Pierce represents that selection for me.