Ray Rice says he's back all the way. "I've got my burst back," to quote him exactly from an interview with Stan White. But in case of a relapse in his sore hip and leg, and probably just as much in case his backup Bernard Pierce's sore leg takes even longer to heal, the Ravens are working out some running back free agents during their Bye Week.
The team worked out former Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells Tuesday and former Cincinnati Bengals running back Bernard Scott last week, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.
Wells isn’t expected to be signed, but Scott impressed and “remains a possibility.”
“The Ravens are expected to continue to explore the free agent running back market and add depth between now and when they return to practice next week following their bye,” Wilson wrote.
Not only are the Ravens ranked last in the NFL with an average of 2.8 yards per rush, but running back Bernard Pierce is dealing with a hamstring injury and didn’t practice Wednesday, according to multiple reports.
That injury is apparently why the team had to turn to fullback Vonta Leach at the end of the Steelers game Sunday.
“While starting running back Ray Rice says he has fully recovered from a hip injury, the same cannot be said about backup Bernard Pierce,” wrote ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “The Ravens didn't have Pierce toward the end of Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, which is why fullback Vonta Leach spelled Rice at times.”
Baltimore already has an open roster spot after trading offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie to the Dolphins Monday. Head Coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday that the team hasn’t yet decided what to do with that final spot.
"We're still working ourselves through that," he said. "It could be a practice-squad promotion. It could be somebody off a practice-squad roster or somebody who's available right now as a free agent."
If the Ravens continue to explore free agency, below are some of the highest-graded running backs available on the market, per ESPN, and the website’s scouting report on each.
ESPN Grade: 76
Cut by Falcons in March after failing a physical
Nine-year career stats: 1,639 rushes, 7,338 yards, 66 touchdowns
“He is a thick, powerful back with an aggressive running style that wears out a defense as the game progresses. But he's beginning to show signs of wear, as he's not as quick to the open lane as he used to be. Nor does he show the same explosive burst when he gets to the second level. He still runs with a strong base and does a good job of gaining yards after initial contact while maintaining excellent balance. He's a solid receiver on short swing passes or screens out of the backfield, but he's not as good trying to track the ball downfield.”
ESPN Grade: 72
Unrestricted free agent after playing with Green Bay, where he was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury in 2012
Eight-year career stats: 1,600 rushes, 6,017 yards, 32 touchdowns
“Benson was acquired from the Bengals in 2012 to bolster the Packers' ground attack, but missed much of the season with a Lisfranc injury. He is a powerful athlete with great vision and inline running skills. He has quickness to and through the hole and lateral agility to hit a crease. He doesn't have outstanding speed to threaten the edges, but is deceptive and can pick up chunks of yards. He has natural strength and runs with good pad level to move the pile on contact. Benson is a solid blocker in pass protection and has improved in this phase of the game. He is a solid receiver out of the backfield, but isn't outstanding after the catch. When healthy, Benson can be a featured back.”
ESPN Grade: 72
Cut by Cardinals in March
Four-year career stats: 625 rushes, 2,471 yards, 24 touchdowns
“Wells is a big, powerful, downhill runner with surprisingly quick feet and good burst. He does a good job of running behind his pads and has enough elusiveness to make the first man miss once he gets to the second level and into space. He lacks great top-end speed, but he can keep the chains moving and put up good numbers as long as he can stay healthy. He shows solid balance on contact and can break his share of tackles with strong legs and balance. He runs with authority and effort, but durability is a concern.”
ESPN Grade: 70
Unrestricted free agent after playing in Green Bay
Seven-year career stats: 956 rushes, 4,148 yards, 27 touchdowns
“He has good size, strength and athleticism. He doesn't have explosive speed to press the edges but has good burst to and through the hole. He has lateral quickness and inline run skills to hit a crease. He runs with good pad level, showing power to move the pile on contact. Grant has shown improved toughness and attitude as a pass blocker. He has reliable hands as a receiver out of the backfield and good RAC ability to get the ball downfield.”
ESPN grade: 59
Cut in September from the Bengals’ physically unable to perform list with an anterior cruciate ligament tear once rookie Giovani Bernard came on strong Four-year career stats: 255 rushes, 1,035 yards, 4 touchdowns
“Scott is an undersized, quicker-than-fast back who was a solid complement to featured runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He has excellent vision and natural run skills with speed to press the edges. He is a reliable receiver out of the backfield who flashes burst in space. Scott had been a big contributor as a returner in the kicking game in 2010, but hasn't been involved in this phase of the game the past two seasons.”
Thanks to the lovely Sarah Ellison of the Ravens.com NFL site for her compilation of the research on the above players.