During the 2008 NFL season, it was referred to as “The Three-Headed Monster.” This trio of distinct running backs, each possessing a unique set of skills, helped lead a rebuilding Baltimore Ravens’ offense to an 11-5 record and an AFC Championship Game.

Led by starter Willis McGahee, the Ravens’ rushing attack ranked sixth in the NFL and third in the AFC. Behind McGahee, former fullback Le’Ron McClain was the bulldozer of the group, scoring 10 of the offense’s 20 rushing touchdowns. He even made his first Pro Bowl appearance, scoring on a “fumble-rooskie.”

Image Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens

The final man of the group, rookie Ray Rice out of Rutgers, showed his playmaking ability on limited action as he totaled 454 yards, averaging 4.2 yards a carry.

Going into the 2009 campaign, the team now loses one member of the triad, while also gaining another. With the loss of starting fullback Lorenzo Neal to the Oakland Raiders, the team must move McClain back to his natural position. This leaves a hole wide open for rookie Cedric Peerman to steal the stage.

The additions of Pro Bowl veteran center Matt Birk and rookie Michael Oher should help free up space around the line, while the shift of McClain provides better protection down the field.

So now a new monster is born, with McGahee, Rice, and Peerman having to bring the offense above and beyond what it was able to accomplish last season.  Below, I will analyze each member’s strengths, weaknesses, and outlook for the upcoming year.

Willis McGahee
2008  Rushing stats: 170 CAR, 671 YDS, 3.9 AVG, 7 TDS
Receiving stats: 24 REC, 173 YDS, 7.2 AVG, 0 TDS

Strengths- McGahee has been the starter in Baltimore since his arrival in 2007, and he has shown one thing consistently:  The big play ability.  Fans saw this on several occasions last season, once against the Miami Dolphins as he caught a pass from quarter back Joe Flacco and scampered 35 yards into the red zone.  It came again in the historic closing of Texas Stadium, as McGahee took the handoff and darted 77 yards for the TD.  We should see more of this with McClain returning to the full back spot and opening holes in the middle of the field.

Weaknesses- There are two primary weaknesses in McGahee’s game, one being his receiving ability.  Back in 2007, McGahee caught 43 passes, racking up 231 yards and a TD.  We saw these numbers lessen in 2008, as he brought in only 24 receptions and totaled 173 yards with no TDs.  With the arrivals of TE L.J. Smith and RB Cedric Peerman, McGahee should be seeing these numbers decline yet again.  Another issue is his durability.  Last season, he played in 13 games; however, he only started in eight.  His knee is always an issue, and fans should continue to monitor it as the year wears on.

Prediction- Rushing stats:  190 CAR, 875 YDS, 4.6 AVG, 10 TDS;  Receiving stats:  20 REC, 145 YDS, 7.3 AVG, 0 TDS

Ray Rice
2008 Rushing stats: 107 CAR, 454 YDS, 4.2 AVG, 0 TDS
Receiving stats: 33 REC, 273 YDS, 8.3 AVG, 0 TDS

Strengths- I like to call him “The Bowling Ball”.  Rice is a small, elusive back who makes most of his plays from the shotgun formation.  He has great vision and patience, as he easily breaks through holes in the Baltimore offensive line.  Unlike McGahee, Rice is a down-hill runner who sees an opening and makes a break.  He was also the top receiving running back for the Birds, as he has great speed after the catch.

Weaknesses- Rice’s strength pales in comparison to many running backs; however, he does have enough to break tackles play-after-play.  His durability is also a slight issue, as he played in 13 games this past season.  Other than this, there is a lot to like with this kid, and I have him down as one of my top offensive sleepers for 2009.

Prediction- Rushing stats:  165 CAR, 750 YDS, 4.5 AVG, 5 TDS; Receiving stats:  45 REC, 415 YDS, 9.2 AVG, 6 TDS

Cedric Peerman
2008 Rushing stats (Virginia):  153 CAR, 774 YDS, 5.1 AVG, 7 TDS
Receiving stats:  44 REC, 193 YDS, 4.4 AVG, 0 TDS

Strengths- Peerman has good size for a running back (5-9 ½) and can blow through any defensive line.  He weighs in at 216 pounds, giving him bulk and the ability to carry a pile.  He has also been said to have good vision and instincts, and he, like Rice, can make receptions out of the backfield.  Peerman may end up becoming the Ray Rice of old, someone Joe Flacco can turn to when things go wrong.   He should be a solid #3 back for a growing offense.

Weaknesses- Peerman is not the quickest of all the running backs taken in the Draft (4.45 40-time), but the Ravens proved last year with Le’Ron McClain that speed doesn’t always equal success.  He has also had problems with his ankle in the past, so durability is always a concern.  All-in-all, these are the only two major concerns regarding Peerman.

Prediction- Rushing stats:  105 CAR, 360 YDS, 3.4 AVG, 2 TDS; Receiving stats:  27 REC, 215 YDS, 7.9 AVG, 1 TD