- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Success for Ray Rice on Monday night depends on breaking through the tackles of the Jaguars and sidestepping defenders in the open field.
But the Ravens running back has a different head-to-head battle on his mind: Rice versus Maurice Jones-Drew.
"Let’s see who comes out as the better running back that day," Rice said, as the Ravens (4-1) prepare to play at Jacksonville (1-5).
When it comes to these types of fights, Rice has become the undisputed champion among running backs. Already this season, he's outplayed Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson and Arian Foster when running on the same field.
Versatility separates Rice from the pack. He has the speed to bounce runs to the outside and the lower-body strength to power his way in between the tackles. Load up the box and Rice will line up as a receiver, where he is a mismatch for a safety.
Since 2009, when Rice became a full-time starter, he has averaged a league-leading 122.1 yards from scrimmage. During that time, he's produced an NFL-best 25 games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage -- which is three more than anyone else in the league (Johnson and Adrian Peterson have 22).
Few running backs are as valuable to their team as Rice, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He leads the Ravens in rushing (398 yards) and is second in receiving (302 yards). His 700 total yards accounts for nearly 40 percent of Baltimore's offense.
“He’s an elite back, as good as there is in the league," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "What scares defenses the most is his quickness, his lateral movement. We see it every practice and get to enjoy it in games. Ray gets any amount of small grass, and I mean a yard, and he can make you miss. The more he touches the ball, the better of a team we are.”
When Rice came into the league, he emulated the already-established Jones-Drew, and there are plenty of reasons why.
Rice is 5-foot-8, 212 pounds. Jones-Drew is 5-7, 208 pounds. Rice was drafted in the second round in 2008, the 55th overall selection. Jones-Drew was taken in the second round in 2006, the 60th overall selection.
Their paths crossed at the 2009 Pro Bowl, where Rice said the two bonded.
"We are just two ‘undersized guys’ that have proven ourselves over and over that, not only are we great running backs, but we are here to stay and we are going to continue to try to be consistent backs in this league," Rice said.
Rice said there weren't any plans to talk to Jones-Drew on the phone in the week leading up to the game. "But I am sure what’s going on his mind is that he wants to be the better back on that night," he said.
Jones-Drew changed the perception that NFL running backs had to be a certain size when he had breakout seasons in 2008 and 2009. He scored 30 touchdowns in those two seasons, a time when Rice was starting to get his footing in the NFL.
Asked if the backs are similar, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said, "Absolutely. Their build is definitely the same. I think Drew might be a little heavier than Ray and things like that. But I think out of the backfield Ray is a little more dynamic when it comes to spreading them out and getting in one-on-one matches. But Jones-Drew is the exact same type of back."
Rice has escaped Jones-Drew's shadow since the beginning of last season, generating 2,476 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Jones-Drew has 2,288 total yards and nine touchdowns during that span.
How does Rice think he measures up to Jones-Drew?
"Standing next to him, he will tell you that I do have him by an inch or so," Rice said with a smile. "So, I won that battle."