Posted in NFL News

Le’Veon Bell signs with Ravens practice squad: Initial thoughts

By Chris Schisler

In news that I didn’t see coming, the Baltimore Ravens signed Le’Veon Bell to their practice squad. The former Pittsburgh Steelers star is now a contingency plan for a Ravens’ running back position hurt by injuries.

In a previous post I offered skepticism about the Ravens signing Bell. Working him out seemed like the very least they could do – it was due diligence.

Bell was linked to the Ravens in 2019 when he became a free agent. It turned out the Ravens weren’t all that interested. Before the Bell sweepstakes ended, Baltimore struck a deal with Mark Ingram.

Bell didn’t last long with the New York Jets. He had widely reported problems with Andy Reid in Kansas City. Long story short, the Ravens’ interest in Bell always seemed muted because they could have had him a couple of different times.

To the practice squad (For Now)

Now Bell goes to the practice squad. He can be called up from there, and most likely will be soon. Bell is no longer the Pro Bowl running back of his Pittsburgh days. He’s coming in as the third running back; he may not even be the only back the Ravens sign.

The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec noted on Twitter that the Ravens could also sign Trenton Cannon to the active roster. This makes sense, it’s doubtful Bell would provide a replacement for Justice Hill on special teams.

The Ravens worked out several running backs after Hill’s injury. None of them seemed like great options. Bell probably has the most upside left in the tank. At this point, it’s such a low-risk/high-reward situation that the move is understandable.

What Le’Veon Bell has been up to:

Bell has only had 82 rushing attempts last season for two different teams. In 2019 he averaged 3.2 yards per attempt and picked up only 789 yards on the ground. Bell still has great name recognition. In terms of football, the trajectory has been down.

The biggest plus for Baltimore is that they get a running back who can catch out of the backfield. At this point of his career that may be where he offers the most value. In 2019, Bell had 66 receptions with the Jets for 461 yards and a touchdown. That really wasn’t that long ago.

That’s the whole draw with Bell. He’s 29 years old, and theoretically has the same skills and traits that made him elite just three seasons ago. Bell went from one of the best play-makers in Steelers’ history to a guy getting a third chance with the Steelers’ top rival. It was a long road to it, but that’s where he is.

So let’s say hypothetically that Bell gets called up at some point early in the season. Does he fit into the Greg Roman offense? Yes and no.

The things Bell has going for him is good vision and the ability to help in the passing game. The thing Bell has working against him is his running style. Bell is a patient runner who likes to see it unfold before he attacks downfield. The Ravens could take him out of his element. It could be like asking Quentin Tarantino to direct Finding Nemo.

The Bottom Line

The best advice for Ravens fans is to temper expectations for Bell. Even if Bell is a player you always wanted to wear purple and black, you need to understand the context of this signing. He’s a veteran back with baggage, hoping to become part of the rotation with Gus Edwards and Ty’Son Williams. He’s not coming in as the star you remember, and he’s not taking the top spot away from Edwards.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: 3 keys for the defense vs. Las Vegas Raiders

Is he the running back I would have gone with? No. I certainly have reservations. After the New Orleans let go of Latavius Murray, he would have been a more drama-free option. The risk is low and the Ravens couldn’t wait to make a move. The signing was as inevitable as my mixed feelings for the signing were.




Posted in NFL News

Baltimore Ravens in need of another running back

By Chris Schisler

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Justice Hill has been lost for the season with a torn Achilles. The Ravens are now in need of a running back, and there are under 10 days until they take on the Las Vegas Raiders to start the season.

If you’re thinking about Nate McCrary, the Ravens cut him and now he’s with the Denver Broncos. Baltimore went from having a surplus of talent at the running back position to just having two running backs they can turn to after the injuries of Dobbins and Hill. The good news is that Gus Edwards is one of those picks. The only other running back on the roster is an undrafted free agent from 2020.

We’ve spent all offseason talking about Todd Gurley. He’s obviously still on the table.

Logistically, the Ravens absolutely have to acquire a third running back. According to a tweet from The Athletics Jeff Zrebiec, the Ravens have worked out Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman and, Elijah Holyfield.

Let’s take a look at these options for the Baltimore Ravens:

Bell has seemingly been linked to the Ravens forever. At this point, fans can be highly skeptical that this would be the time to bring in Bell. If the Ravens wanted Bell they could have had him twice. Bell had a disappointing stint with the New York Jets and didn’t work out well with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Is Bell even a scheme fit for the Ravens. Bell is known for a patient running style where he’ll dance around a bit and feel out his way through the offensive line. If there’s one thing, Gus Edwards, Ty’Son Williams and, Justice Hill all had in common it’s that they aggressively hit the point of attack. At this point, the Ravens could pay Bell like a number three running back, yet he’d have to be deemed a scheme fit. The Ravens would also need to decide if he’s worth the headache they’ve never seemed interested in having.

If this was 2016 or 2017, Freeman would look like a very appealing option. Freeman was with the Giants last year and only played in five games. He averaged 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. Back in the day, he was a reliable running back good for at least four yards per carry and a good showing as a pass-catcher. There’s just no reason to think the previous version of Freeman’s game lives in him.

With Holyfield, the Ravens would have to know something that I don’t. He’s only played in one game in the NFL, on top of that he has no stats to speak of. Could he work out? Sure. I’m not familiar enough with him to have much of an opinion one way or the other.

Frank Gore is still playing…

Frank Gore is another option. He’s 38 years old, and he should probably retire, yet he’s an option. Gore isn’t as explosive as he used to be. What you get is a versatile back who can block and catch passes. What you get is a dependable player who will at least give you a solid performance. Gore had 653 yards last year with the Jets and just under 600 yards with the Bills in 2019.

One thing to note about Gore is that he’s tough as nails and he’s a great source of veteran leadership. Gore had 12 straight seasons with over 200 rushing attempts in the NFL. He’s able to take more of a beating than most people on the planet. As a serviceable third running back, he wouldn’t have to do too much but would prevent Edwards from having to take on an unviable and unfair workload.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens vs. Las Vegas Raiders: 5 predictions and a score

The options at this point aren’t great for the Baltimore Ravens as they try to find a third running back for their roster. Running back has become the thinnest spot on the roster, and that’s a big deal for what is still expected to be the most run-oriented team in the NFL.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: Projecting Gus Edwards numbers for 2021

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens will have to lean a little bit more heavily on Gus Edwards now that J.K. Dobbins is out for the season with a torn ACL. Fans want to know- partly for Fantasy Football – partly for the love of Ravens football, what will change this season for Gus Edwards?

The honest answer is not a lot. Edwards has had three straight seasons over 700 yards rushing. In 2018, he had 144 carries. He’s had over 130 carries three seasons in a row. While J.K. Dobbins was technically slated to be the number one running back, Edwards offered little to no drop-off as running back two. Essentially the Ravens planned on having two lead backs. One is out for the year, the other will continue to be a workhorse for the offense.

Projection is tricky but doable for the Baltimore Ravens’ top back:

Projecting based on last season is a little tricky. There’s an extra game this year, and Dobbins is out of the equation. For the moment, the fill-in running back carries will be handled by Justice Hill and Ty’Son Williams. Last season it was a fairly even split. Edwards ran the rock 144 times and Dobbins got it 133 times.

The reason it won’t be a drastic change for Edwards is that the Ravens aren’t going to abuse him. The Ravens haven’t really had a running back who got around 25 rushing attempts a game since the days of Brian Billick and Jamal Lewis. John Harbaugh-coached teams have seldom had one back do all the heavy lifting. In 2019, Mark Ingram had 10-13 carries per game, proof that the number one guy doesn’t get a cruel workload.

The Ravens are going to want to maximize what they get out of Edwards. They don’t want to work him so hard that they have him running out of gas by the playoffs. Let’s say he averages 12 rushing attempts per game. This seems like a fair number. 12 x 17 = 204 rushing attempts. That is 60 more carries than last season. His workload is going to go up.

So we have Edwards down for 204 rushing attempts. On paper, it does sound like a lot. In a perfect world, the Ravens may be able to lean on their other running backs enough to make it more of a fair ask of Edwards. Nonetheless, 204 attempts is the projection we’re at. Edwards should be good for around five yards per carry. That average would track with the rest of his career. That would give Edwards 1,020 yards on the year.

Additional thing to think about here:

Keeping in mind that there is an extra game and that Ty’Son Williams and Justice Hill probably don’t add up to the impact of one J.K. Dobbins, overdoing it a little bit with Edwards is going to be hard to avoid. The Ravens may not want to add a veteran running back to the mix either because the roster math is still a limitation. Can moves happen? Yes. For the time being this is the unit the Ravens have for the backfield.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see Pat Ricard get a little more in the way of touches this season. His rushing totals will still look minimal, yet it’s another way to run the ball without asking the “Gus Bus” to do it all.

One area of concern is how the Ravens have their running backs produce as running backs out of the backfield. Last year, Edwards only caught nine passes. Edwards only has 18 career receptions. Justice Hill all of the sudden is probably Baltimore’s best receiving option out of the backfield. Dobbins was a more dynamic playmaker as a receiving option than Edwards. This could limit the offense a bit more than Greg Roman would like.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Early reasons for confidence vs. Las Vegas Raiders

It should be a great year for Edwards. If he stays healthy he’s going to be one of the best running backs in the NFL. You could argue he already is one of the top backs in football. He certainly is one of the most consistent.

Posted in Uncategorized

J.K. Dobbins out for the year: How the Ravens move forward

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens had one of the worst possible things happen in their preseason game against the Washington Football Team. They lost their star running back J.K. Dobbins for the season. According to reports, Dobbins tore his ACL and won’t play in the 2021 season. How do the Baltimore Ravens move forward? Let’s dive into that.

This obviously makes Gus Edwards the top running back in Baltimore. An outside signing isn’t out of the question. Todd Gurley talked to the Ravens this offseason. Frank Gore hasn’t retired yet and is available. With the regular season coming in just a couple of weeks, the timing for a move like this isn’t ideal.

The most likely scenario is that the Baltimore Ravens roll with the running backs on their roster. This probably means that on the 53 man roster, Gus Edwards, Ty’Son Williams, and Justice Hill will make up the running back spot. Dobbins is hard to replace, though there isn’t suddenly room for a fourth running back on the 53 man roster.

The Ravens didn’t just have two unproven running backs play amazing football to sign an older and staler player on a knee-jerk reaction. The roster is loaded but the Ravens should absolutely get Nate McCrary on the practice squad. He could be called up if needed. The running back position as a whole got a little less proven, but it’s not a completely disassembled unit.

Edwards is in a very interesting position. On one hand, he’s one of the most consistent running backs the Baltimore offense has ever had. Edwards has had three straight seasons over 700 yards. On the other hand, Edwards has never been the Jamal Lewis or the Ray Rice type of player. He’s been the compliment of the Ravens run game more than he’s been the bell cow. Edwards is looking at a bigger role.

Dobbins averaged six yards per carry in his rookie season. If Dobbins stayed healthy he more than likely would have had over 1,000 yards on the ground. Last year, Dobbins, Edwards and, Jackson totaled 2,533 total yards. To stay on track Edwards needs to have his best year ever and at least flirt with the 1,000-yard mark.

As good as Ty’Son Williams has looked in the preseason, the Ravens running back group took a huge hit. The Ravens lost one of the best one-two punches in the NFL. Whether the number two back becomes Williams or Justice Hill, it won’t pack the same dynamic. Edwards’s role was often to be the closer at the end of the game, who would run without mercy against a tired defense. Now he’s the starting pitcher.

One of the major concerns of training camp was how severely the injuries prevented the offense from gelling. Should Lamar Jackson and the now-injured Dobbins have been playing in the final preseason game? No. The motivation to play them though was to get as much of the starting offense rolling together as the Ravens could.

The Dobbins injury compounds the chemistry problem. The purple and black now have to go into the preseason without working out the kinks in a game with their real starting offense. They have to figure out the new rotation at running back and establish a new pecking order in the backfield.

The Ravens should still be one of the best running football teams. They even have a chance to remain the top running football operation in the NFL. Lamar Jackson will always boost the ground game. He does this not only by producing on the ground but by making the defense mindful that he can produce on the ground.

The Ravens aren’t going to go from being one of the best running teams in the history of football (maybe even the best) to struggling on the ground. The ground game should still be the core competency of this offense. The question isn’t even how many yards this will shave off their total production running the football, but how will it impact the crazy efficiency of the unit on the ground.

Jackson averaged 6.3 yards per rushing attempt last season. Dobbins averaged an even six. Edwards picked up five yards a pop. At the end of the year, if the Ravens don’t have their three top runners picking up five or more yards per attempt, it takes a bit of the bite out of the strength of the offense.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens 3 Big Questions About the Secondary

The Dobbins injury doesn’t sink the Ravens. It is however completely deflating to lose a potential superstar breakout year from a young running back. The Ravens lost star power and it’s awfully early to be turning to the next-man-up mentality. One way or another the Ravens needed to see gains from their passing attack in 2021. This surely reinforces that. If the Ravens don’t add an outside running back it shows you that they are still confident in their ability to be a dominant team running the football.


Posted in Ashley's 3 big questions

Baltimore Ravens: 3 Big Questions at the Running Back Position

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.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens draft busts and what they were going for with them

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?