Ravens' position analysis: Running backs

For the next two weeks, let's a take a position-by-position review of the Baltimore Ravens' 2013 season and give a sneak peek of what lies ahead:


Under contract (2014 salary-cap number): RB Ray Rice ($8.75 million), RB Bernard Pierce ($708,986), FB Vonta Leach ($2.33M), FB Kyle Juszczyk (570,146) and RB Cierre Wood (reserve-future contract).

2014 free agents: RB Bernard Scott.

The good: Rice didn't have a terrible finish to the season, averaging a season-high 3.9 yards per carry and 7.2 yards per reception in the month of December. The high point of his season was rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown at Chicago, the NFL's worst run defense. That accounted for 20 percent of his rushing total for the season. Pierce didn't make as much of an impact as expected, but the Ravens were 6-1 when he gained at least 30 yards rushing.

The bad: Rice (3.1 yards per carry) and Pierce (2.9) ranked in the NFL's bottom four in rushing average, an indication that the bigger problem was the offensive line. Rice ran for 660 yards, the first time he didn't gain gain at least 1,100 yards since becoming the featured back in 2009. Pierce had 44 more carries than his rookie season, but finished with 96 fewer yards. Leach was phased out of the offense after the Ravens acknowledged they couldn't run the ball. He averaged 14 offensive plays per game, earning nearly $9,000 per snap.

The money: Rice is not a candidate to be a salary-cap casualty even though he has a high cap number (fifth-highest on Ravens) and had a career-worst season. His contract was front-loaded, so the Ravens wouldn't create any cap room by cutting him. The more likely cap casualty is Leach. He had almost no role in the offense after the Ravens went to a three-receiver set, and the Ravens can free up $1.75 million in cap room.

Draft priority: Moderate. Rice could be on his way out with another lackluster season in 2014, and Pierce can't stay healthy. Pierce will have rotator cuff surgery, which might keep him out until training camp. Don't look for the Ravens to use a first- or second-round pick on a running back, but no one should be surprised if the team took one after that.