Fantasy owners can only hope the answer is one of the three, and not a combination.
Why McGahee will keep the job: A team already relying on a second-year quarterback and a no-name receiving corps can hardly afford to pin its hopes on an inexperienced backfield. McGahee is a five-year veteran, and someone who has proven productive to fantasy owners when healthy. He can do what neither Rice nor McClain can do -- carry the ball on every down, in every game situation. And still months away from his 28th birthday, he still has a few years before reaching the age when running backs most commonly begin to deteriorate. His offseason knee surgery may scare off fantasy owners, but McGahee claims a clean bill of health and has bounced back from the scalpel many times before.
Why Rice will win it: To be precise, fantasy owners are basing their interest in Rice almost solely on his Week 9 performance against Cleveland last year (21 carries for 154 yards). That game made fantasy owners take notice of the former Rutgers star. The downside to drafting Rice, of course, is that the little guy didn't cross the goal line once all last year (140 offensive touches). Still, he is durable (evidenced by his 715 carries over his final two years with the Scarlet Knights), and is the running back many consider to be the best fit in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system. In limited action Rice caught almost as many passes as tight end Todd Heap last year. He is elusive in the open field and deceptively difficult to tackle. The most telling stat: Rice led all Ravens rushers last year with a 4.2 yards per carry average (McGahee averaged 3.9 yards).
Don't forget about: McClain. Ah, yes, the pink elephant in Baltimore. Last season McClain led the Ravens in carries (232), yards (902) and touchdowns (10). He has to figure into the equation this year, correct? Yes and no. What fantasy owners need to know is that Baltimore has made it no secret their desire to return McClain back to his natural spot at fullback. Still, with so many knocks against Rice (size, inexperience) and McGahee (injuries), only a fool would remove McClain from the Ravens running back picture. If anything, he'll play the role of spoiler this season, cutting into the workload without offering fantasy owners consistency or enough of a goal line presence to make him worthy of a roster spot.
Who fantasy owners should pull for: Rice. The thinking is simple here: he's younger, he's more versatile, and the talk in Baltimore seems to support an increased role for Rice in the offense. All of that should give fantasy owners confidence. Even McGahee admitted recently that Rice will enter camp with a lead for the featured role. Fantasy owners are most concerned with who finishes the year as Baltimore's starter, not who the starter will be in Week 1. As McGahee put it in an article published last week on the Baltimore Ravens' team site, "It's not how you start. It's how you finish." Well, that's been the problem with McGahee -- he doesn't finish for fantasy owners. He's missed six games over the last three seasons, and has been held to fewer than 50 yards rushing in seven of his last 10 games in the month of December. Rice, on the other hand, has fresh legs, and the ability to please fantasy owners in more ways than McGahee (or McClain) can.
None of the three are capable of filling a spot in the starting lineup for fantasy owners, as each will get a portion of the offensive workload in Baltimore, but Rice will probably total more touches and thus more total fantasy points. As a mid-round grab (and a No. 3 or 4 back) Rice is an intriguing pick, especially in PPR leagues.
Mike Beacom is the publisher for World Fantasy Games, which includes RapidDraft.com, SportsBuff.com and ProFantasySports.com.