Just How Good is Bernard Pierce?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

While the rest of the NFL was looking the other way, Bernard Pierce had a fantastic rookie year. Just how underrated is he?

There were a lot of good rookie running backs in 2012. Alfred Morris and Doug Martin both took the league by storm and were both in the top five of rushing yards on the season. And while Trent Richardson wasn't as impressive as either, he still looks like he will be a top running back for years to come.

But one of the most underrated rookie running backs from the stacked 2012 draft class is one of Baltimore's own: backup running back Bernard Pierce.

While Pierce might not be a common NFL name, anyone who regularly watched the Ravens this year understands how valuable Pierce was to the team's rushing attack. Pierce's more bruising rushing style provided a nice change of pace from the smaller Rice, who provided a great one-two punch, especially as the season went on.

Pierce impressed so much that the Ravens' running coach Wilbert Montgomery went as far as to call him a "poor man's Adrian Peterson", which is high praise for a rookie.

Pierce's value appears immediately, even when considering league wide rushing stats. While his 532 yards over the course of the season doesn't seem impressive, because he didn't get as many carries as a starter, his yards per carry numbers were off the charts for a rookie. His 4.9 yards per rush attempt is the 7th highest in the NFL among qualifying players.

That's more than Alfred Morris (4.8 yards per game), Doug Martin (4.6 yards per game), and even more than Ray Rice (4.4 yards per game). And when the Ravens reached the postseason, Pierce actually IMPROVED his yards per rush attempt to 5.2. That is especially impressive given the improved competition in the playoffs.

Pierce isn't going to remain an NFL secret for long. He made NFL.com's list of top players they see making a leap in 2013 and has gotten "bigger and faster" according to Coach John Harbaugh. And while he almost certainly won't replace Rice, who is still a fabulous runner and a much better receiver then Pierce, they could create a shared running threat the likes of which haven't been seen since Rice was sharing carries with McGahee in his prime.

So unless you have Ray Rice on your fantasy team, Pierce's emergence as maybe the top premier backup running back in the league means nothing but good things for the Ravens, moving forward.

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