By Chris Schisler
No more J.K. Dobbins for the Baltimore Ravens. No more Gus Edwards. A completely new running back group. Things changed in a heartbeat, didn’t they? The Ravens running back room now consists of Ty’Son Williams, Le’Veon Bell, Latavius Murray and, Devonta Freeman. Trenton Cannon also figures into the equation but is projected by most pundits as a special teams player. Okay Plan B-Y are essentially gone through. Here’s plan Z.
So what should we think of this make-shift group of running backs? Let’s take a real look at what we can expect from each running back. Here is the one thing going for each of them, and the one thing that works against them the most.
A look at the Ravens running backs:
Ty’Son Williams: What works for him?
What’s working for Williams is that he’s young and he’s got fresh legs. He’s the one running back who hasn’t gotten a chance to shine on the big stage. Monday Night Football against the Oakland Raiders is a big jump up in competition than the third quarter of a preseason game. Williams has a lot of competition, though he’s the only one with untapped potential. At this point in their careers, Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman can’t be workhorses for the offense.
This is essentially the Suicide Squad of running backs. These are mostly second chance running backs, who didn’t have options and are relatively expendable. Bell can potentially work his way up to stardom, he’s definitely the Blood Sport of this group (Or DeadShot, depending on which version you want to use with this analogy). The point is that in the group of cheap replacements, Williams is the cheapest. He’s on his first contract as an undrafted free agent. The Ravens can run him into the ground if they have to, and they may have to.
What works against Williams?
The thing that works against Williams is that he’s so inexperienced. We may not know what his counterparts have left in the tank, but they are known commodities. When it comes to the little things it could be his downfall. Pass blocking, route running out of the backfield, and becoming one with this offense are all things that could potentially be hiccups for him.
Le’Veon Bell: What works for him with the Ravens?
What is working for Bell is that he’s a really good pass catcher. This is a running back that has caught 394 passes in the NFL. Do all of the running backs have the ability to be receivers out of the backfield? Sure, some more than others. Bell has a track record for doing it the best. If Bell gets back to the player he was (Or even gets 50-75% there) he’s going to be the most versatile and dynamic back on the roster.
Bell may have skipped the entire 2018 season. Bell may have been on a downward trajectory that started with a bad New York Jets team, but he was a superstar half a decade ago. The Ravens can bring him some stability and this could be the fresh start he’s needed for a while. There’s an idea going around that if anybody can get something out of Bell it’s Baltimore. I think that’s true.
What works against Bell?
Bell’s running style is well documented and it’s not what the Ravens do. The whole stand behind the line of scrimmage and watch the blocks unfold thing isn’t going to work for the Ravens. Bell probably will adjust. The Ravens probably told him he has to. That’s something to keep an eye on. This marriage isn’t built on a perfect match but on necessity. Bell has to stop a slide down in his career. Things have been going the wrong way. Slides down the hill are hard to stop. Climbing back up is hard too, so there’s a concern here. Cautious optimism is a good thing to have will Bell.
Latavius Murray: What works for him?
The good news for Murray is that he’s put up decent numbers for a complementary running back for the most part of his career. In the last two seasons, Murray had over 600 yards and averaged over four yards per rushing attempt. Murray is a huge running back. Is he Gus “The Bus”? No. Is he someone that a linebacker really wants to tackle when there’s a full head of steam? Nope. Murray could be the best fit. He’s basically still what he’s always been. He’s a running back who can chip into a running back rotation. He didn’t look good in the preseason and the Saints asked him to take a pay cut. He’s not a star, but if the Ravens call on him, this can legitimately work out.
What works against Murray?
What works against Murray is that he’s not overly explosive. He’s 31 years old, and the Ravens have to see how much is left in the tank. With Murray, you’re getting a player that fits with the Ravens, but the ceiling may be lower for him than Bell. The ceiling could be lower for him than Williams, who has a real chance for a breakout year.
Devonta Freeman: What works for him?
Freeman is a good pass catcher of the football and is a player that could work in the one cut-and-go offense of the Ravens. Freeman stylistically may even fit the best out of all the running backs. So what’s the catch?
What works against Freeman?
Freeman is coming off a year with the Giants where he didn’t factor into the equation much. He only played in four games and he didn’t look great in that small sample size. Back in the day he was one of the better running backs in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons.
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The problem is that he’s less exciting than Bell and Williams as a pass-catching running back. On top of that, it seems like he was just signed because he was available and the Ravens needed to act quickly.