The Ravens knew that they were getting a good player when they spent a second-round draft pick on running back Ray Rice last year, but did they expect to have the type of playmaker Rice has become in only his second season?
Rice is currently leading the NFL in total yards from scrimmage by averaging 127.7 yards per game.
Such production surprised Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.
"We were hopeful that we'd see this Ray Rice," Harbaugh said on Monday. "But Ray's one of these guys, he's got as good an attitude as any player. I'll admit this: He's probably a little more talented than maybe we even thought when we drafted him."
It is all part of Rice's plan to become one of the league's most-versatile players.
Rice is racking up 73.5 rushing yards each week, in addition to 54.2 receiving yards per game.
With every multi-dimensional performance, Rice is fulfilling his dream when he entered the league following a standout career at Rutgers.
"That's my ultimate goal to be on this team," Rice said. "I want to be known as not just a guy that can run the ball. I want to be known as an all-purpose back. That's where most of my yards will come from. My stats at the end of the game, I want to see how much total yards I have. I'm sure I'll be able to catch the ball, or run between the tackles – do different things when the ball is in my hands.
"At the end of the day, my position is a running back. When I get [the ball] in my hand, I'm a running back. When I caught the pass for 63 yards, it was a 10-yard throw turned into something else. You're a running back after that. That feels good to know that when the ball is in your hand, you're able to do something with it."
Last week, Rice was the catalyst of the Ravens' three-touchdown fourth quarter in a 33-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Quarterback Joe Flacco found Rice for a short pass on one scoring drive and raced up the right sideline for a 63-yard gain. That three-play march resulted in a touchdown pass to wideout Derrick Mason.
Just over a minute later, after the Ravens' defense forced a Minnesota three-and-out, Rice took a handoff through the left side of the line and squirted through tacklers en route to a 63-yard touchdown that gave Baltimore a brief lead.
Following his breakout day, Rice's name was mentioned among the league's best playmakers.
"It definitely feels good to know that your hard work is paying off," explained Rice. "The offensive line always does a great job. Once I get the ball in my hand, I just feel like I am being able to make plays. It feels good to know that you're doing that to help your team."
Flacco, who entered the league the same year as Rice, is enjoying the benefits of his fellow member of the Class of '08.
"To get him the ball in the passing game, he made some big plays," Flacco said. "And we were able to sneak him up there and have him break a tackle for that run, too. Ray's done a great job all year for us, and he's going to continue to do that. But, yesterday, he was definitely a big part of why we came back."
Rice points to his dedication this offseason, which was more productive because he wasn't training for the NFL Scouting Combine and tryouts with various teams. He also feels like he is more comfortable with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system.
"I can go back to OTAs, mini-camp and even taking it in to training camp, of making plays," Rice noted. "Now when I get out to the field, it's comfortable for me now. The game has slowed down for me enough where coach will let me do certain things that he knows I'm going to make a play."
The 5-foot-8, 210-pound Rice has brought an indelible presence to the locker room.
Harbaugh is impressed just as much with Rice's on-field performance as he is of his heart. Following the heart-breaking loss in Minnesota, where kicker Steve Hauschka missed a 44-yard field goal with two seconds remaining, Rice delivered this message to the media:
"I just want to say that I love my team," Rice said. "The way we fought today… Win, lose or draw, there is no group of guys that I'd rather go down swinging with. That is a great team next door, but the way we fought today really showed the character of our team. I just wanted to put that out there. We lost, but there's a way to go down swinging. I love my team. There is no group of guys that I'd rather go down swinging with."
Now that is something that didn't shock the Ravens.
"What he said after the game, it just blows me away," Harbaugh said. "For a young man to be that mature and just have that big of a heart [is amazing]. In that sense, no it doesn't surprise us."