Months remain between now and Week 1, but the draft is over, and so is rookie minicamp. Ahead of minicamps and training camp, I’ll take a very-early look at the most intriguing battles on the Ravens’ depth chart. Here’s the outlook at running back:
Running backs on the roster
Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Justin Forsett, Trent Richardson, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West
Of the six running backs listed above, the Ravens must decide whether to keep three or four. I’m not including fullback Kyle Juszczyk in this conversation, who is a virtual lock to make the roster.
Drafting Dixon in the fourth round and signing Richardson made it clear that roles would be earned, not given. The Ravens ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing in 2014, but plummeted to 26th in 2015. That does not sit well with coach John Harbaugh, who wants to re-establish the Ravens as a team that runs the football effectively.
Forsett thrives on competition and won’t give up the starting job without a serious fight. But Forsett will turn 31 years old in October. Even if Forsett wins the starting job, the Ravens probably don’t want his carries to exceed 200 for the season.
Allen was solid as a rookie, but averaging 3.8 yards per carry didn’t guarantee him anything. He also fumbled twice in two weeks in December, which temporarily landed him in the doghouse.
It will be interesting to see how committed Richardson is to salvaging his career, after being a major draft bust in 2012 as the No. 3 overall pick by the Browns. If Richardson does not keep himself in shape, he has no chance to make the roster. But Richardson doesn’t turn 26 years old until July 10. He’s still young enough to earn a job in the NFL if he shows he has something left.
Taliaferro must prove he can stay healthy, coming off two straight seasons cut short by foot injuries. It’s also career crossroads time for West, the former Towson star who is already with his third NFL team. West wanted the Ravens to sign him last year, and they did. Will West make the most of the opportunity, or will the depth on this roster be too deep for him to stick?
Dixon may be the most intriguing person in this bunch. Many scouts loved him before the draft, not only because he ran with power during college, but because he was an excellent pass-catcher and route runner. Dixon could find his niche immediately as a third-down back.
I give the edge to Forsett remaining the starter, with Allen as the primary backup, and Dixon also seeing game action. That would leave Richardson, Taliaferro, and West fighting to convince Harbaugh the Ravens need to keep a fourth back. If they do keep four backs, I’ll guess West will be the guy. But the competition at this position, coupled with potential injuries, makes the outlook truly wide open.