Will Rice return to being elite RB next season?

Will Rice return to being elite RB next season?
May 21, 2014, 9:15 am
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Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice rushes the ball during an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Baltimore.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The next step for Ray Rice is to reestablish himself as one of the NFL’s elite backs. 

Whether Rice can do that or not will have a significant impact on how the Ravens fare next season. There has been much focus on Rice’s off-field troubles, and he received good news Tuesday when he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program that should lead to assault charges against him being dropped. While Rice could still face an early-season suspension from the NFL, he will not stand trial and will avoid jail time.

Now the focus on Rice shifts to his performance instead of his personal life. He is coming off his most disappointing season – 660 yards, averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry. He suffered a hip injury in Week 2 and looked nothing like the explosive, elusive back that gained at least 1100 yards the previous four seasons.

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Rice is still only 27 years old, but running backs can decline quickly. That leaves Rice with questions to answer on the field next season, on a Ravens team that still needs him. The Ravens drafted running back Lorenzo Taliaferro from Coastal Carolina in the fourth round, but he’s making a big jump in level of competition. Third-year back Bernard Pierce is still recovering from shoulder surgery, and has yet to prove he can handle the season-long workload of being a No. 1 back.

Rice at his best is a unique all-around talent – capable of making game-changing plays as both a runner and receiver. Tuesday was a good day for Rice. Now the Ravens are hoping Rice has many more good Sundays.