By: Ashley Anderson
Two years running (pun intended) the Baltimore Ravens have led the NFL in team rushing yardage. Quarterback Lamar Jackson plays a major role in that, having gained over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Still, the Ravens routinely feature premier running backs. This year, the Ravens seem committed to expanding their aerial attack, but their ground game is their bread and butter. Here are the burning questions regarding the running back core.
3.) Will J.K. Dobbins separate himself from Gus Edwards as the feature back?
When the Ravens selected J.K. Dobbins 55th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft despite having Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards on their roster, some fans scratched their heads. However, by the end of the season, Ingram was a healthy scratch, and Dobbins was on fire. The former Ohio State Buckeye finished on an absolute tear, scoring touchdowns in six straight games.
With a full season under his belt and a normal offseason to train, Dobbins is primed for a breakout sophomore campaign. Averaging a whopping six-yards per carry, Dobbins amassed 805 yards with just one start in 15 games. Given more totes this season, he could easily top 1,000 yards.
Not to be outdone, Gus Edwards averaged 5-yards per carry on his way to 732 yards. The model of consistency, Edwards has topped 700 yards in each of his three seasons in Baltimore. He was recently re-signed to a two-year, $8 million deal, signaling the Ravens’ belief in his abilities.
Baltimore could split carries evenly between the two, or they could choose to ride the hot hand. Towards the end of 2020, that looked to be Dobbins. Will he pull away from Edwards as the lead back?
2.) What will Justice Hill’s role look like this season for the Baltimore Ravens?
Last season, the running back room was crowded with Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins all playing a major role at one point. The forgotten back seemed to be Justice Hill, who is entering his third season in Baltimore.
Hill was a prolific runner at Oklahoma State, racking up 3,539 ground yards and 30 touchdowns in three seasons. With the fastest 40-yard dash time in his draft class, he certainly had the look of a guy who could excel at the next level. When Hill was selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, it appeared he may carve out a significant role on Baltimore’s offense. Thus far, however, special teams have been his niche.
With Mark Ingram gone, Hill moves up slightly in the pecking order. His largest workload to date came in his rookie year where he had 58 carries. Those translated to just 225 yards, though, for an average of 3.9 yards per carry. On the other hand, his skills as a receiver out of the backfield may be a bit sharper than those of Edwards and Dobbins. Could Hill expand his role as a receiving back this season?
1.) How involved will the running backs be in the passing game?
Speaking of an expanded role in the passing game, Ravens coaches have been frank about their desire to see their running backs get more involved. Oftentimes, when a play breaks down, Lamar Jackson relies on his own legs instead of throwing a check-down pass. While that works in many situations, Baltimore would prefer to see Jackson use his arm.
Joe Flacco achieved a great deal of success with check-down passes. No Ravens fan will soon forget the 4th-and-29 pass to Ray Rice that resulted in a first down conversion. That is often a QB’s best weapon to escape quick pressure. With a trio of talented backs, this is definitely an area with room for improvement.
Dobbins especially put on a show at minicamp, but he had a couple of awful drops in the playoffs last year. Edwards is known more for being a bruiser, yet he posted a career-high nine catches for 129 yards in 2020. As mentioned previously, Hill could also see a larger role due to his receiving ability.
One way or another, Baltimore is committed to improving its passing attack, and their running backs are an underutilized group. Could this be the year they all get more involved?