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5. The Ravens may have a future starter on their hands in rookie back Bernard Pierce
The selection of Bernard Pierce in the third round of April's draft raised some eyebrows. For one, the team was in the middle of contract negotiations with Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, and it was unclear if the team and the player could come up with a figure that made sense for both parties. The team also had more glaring needs along the offensive line, at wide receiver and in their front seven. But the Ravens always covet the top player on the board, and they coveted Pierce, a bruising running back out of Temple, so much that they traded up in the third round to secure him. But throughout the season, as his workload has slowly picked up, it has become obvious to us what the Ravens saw in Pierce all along: He may be a future starting NFL running back, not just a physical change of pace from Rice.
Pierce has thrived in the big-bodied backup running back role vacated when Ricky Williams meandered off into retirement. He scored his first NFL touchdown in a Week 9 win over the Cleveland Browns and got a season-high 10 carries the following week. He rushed for a career-high 53 yards in the loss to the Washington Redskins, then doubled that total in Sunday's 33-14 win over the New York Giants. Pierce rushed for 123 yards on 14 carries, and his 78-yard scamper electrified the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium.
With just under 10 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, Pierce spelled Rice and took a handoff from quarterback Joe Flacco. His offensive line, which bounced back with a nice performance against the Giants, plowed open a running lane, and Pierce shot through it with a surprising quickness that many scouts said he didn't have. He cut around a Giants defense back then turned on the jets, running to the New York 15-yard line and stiff-arming a defender before he was shoved out of bounds inches short of the right pylon. Rice and Pierce each got a crack at punching it in to the end zone, but the Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal after Pierce's 78-yard run. Still, the run was impressive showing of speed, strength and athleticism, the kind of highlight-reel run that could be a regular occurrence for Pierce down the road.
December 23, 2012