PFW: What a Breakout Season for McClain

From: Pro Football Weekly

How big a Pro Bowl longshot was FB Le’Ron McClain entering this season? Well, let’s put it this way: Lorenzo Neal, who joined the Ravens only in August, was probably a better bet, on name recognition alone, to make it to Hawaii than McClain. After all, Neal had been to four Pro Bowls, and McClain was coming off an eight-carry rookie campaign in 2007.

By now, you know how things played out for McClain. He’s emerged as the Ravens’ leading rusher and has received the majority of the carries in recent weeks. And this week, he was named a Pro Bowl starter.

McClain’s rise has come as Willis McGahee’s role in the Ravens’ offense has waned. McGahee has been limited by injuries all season, and he has looked little like the back who himself made the Pro Bowl in ’07. McGahee did not make much of an impact in the pivotal Week 15 loss to Pittsburgh, carrying only six times for 18 yards. Meanwhile, McClain carried 23 times for 87 yards.

Early in December, head coach John Harbaugh insisted that there was work for all three of the Ravens’ primary ballcarriers: McClain, McGahee and Ray Rice. But a leg injury has slowed Rice, and McGahee hasn’t been all that productive. This has allowed McClain to become a bigger part of the Ravens’ offense than ever.

The Ravens could easily elect to bring back all three backs next season. McClain, who’s on his first contract, is signed through the ’09 season. Rice’s deal does not expire until 2011. Also, McGahee’s salary-cap number is a manageable $3.1 million in ’09. The Ravens have to decide whether to pay him a $1.5 million option bonus in March but figure to do so. Overall, McGahee is signed through 2013, but it’s unlikely he would play out his entire contract in its current form.

The Ravens’ big RB decision could come after the ’09 season, as McGahee’s salary-cap number increases to a little more than $6 million in 2010, and McClain could enter restricted free agency. McClain’s agent, Todd France, told PFW that he has yet to discuss a new contract with the Ravens and indicated any talks, were they to happen, might come in the offseason.

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