There can be reasonable debate over the value of running backs in today’s NFL. What there can’t be is a debate over the skill level of J.K. Dobbins.
With their first pick on the second day of the NFL Draft at 55th overall, the Ravens stuck to their board and chose the former Ohio State running back. In a somewhat surprising move, the Ravens added to their already deep running back group with a player they didn’t expect to be on the board in the second round, much less with the 55th pick.
“This was a guy that was, in my opinion, one of the very best in college football this year,” general manager Eric DeCosta said after the selection. “He's a very talented guy with electric skills and played at a very high level in a really good conference (on) one of the best teams in college football, so we're excited to get him. He fits us, and I think he's going to be a guy that is going to be a dangerous player for us and give us the depth to do what we like to do.”
While running backs certainly hold more value for the Ravens than other teams in the NFL — the Ravens attempted 596 running plays last season, 98 more than the second-place 49ers — it’s reasonable to question the merits of selecting a running back with a second round pick, even for this team.
Baltimore signed Mark Ingram to a contract in the spring of 2019 and then invested a fourth-round pick in Justice Hill a month later. Ingram carried the ball 202 times last season and Gus Edwards did so 133 times. Hill did 58 times, too.
It’s reasonable that the team would like to cut down on Jackson’s 176 carries, but those numbers can be made up with a modest increase in Edwards and Hill’s workloads, as well as an increased emphasis on the passing game.
The Ravens rushed for 3,296 yards, an NFL single-season record, and changed the way some thought about the game as a whole.
All of that makes the decision to pick a running back with the second pick of the team’s draft a bold swing in today’s NFL, especially considering the conversation surrounding the value of a running back to a team.
Few running back contracts break the bank in today’s NFL and their value to a team’s offense is under deeper inspection. Just five running backs average more than $10 million per season. Only 11 have contracts fully guaranteed for more than $10 million. None of those 11 are over the age of 30.
In terms of fully guaranteed money, the only 30-year-olds making more than six million per season are Ingram and the Saints’ Latavius Murray.
Running backs aren’t paid well, or for very long, and investments in the position aren’t a good bet to reach a second contract, let alone a third, with the same team.
But that isn't a reflection of the type of player Dobbins is.
He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons as a Buckeye, including a 2019 season in which he rushed for 2,003 yards — a school record. He took his snaps out of the pistol and, paired with his excellent vision in the open field, is a perfect fit for the Ravens’ offense.
As for the immediate future, the Ravens didn’t draft Dobbins to sit on the bench. They’ll likely use him to take the load off of both Jackson and Ingram, which could be bad news for Edwards, or Hill’s shot at making the 53-man roster come training camp.
But Dobbins’ addition likely means the introduction of more rotation in the backfield, as well as the potential for two-back sets that don’t include fullback Patrick Ricard.
Either way, the Ravens will get a running back in Dobbins that will likely be the starter in 2022, and perhaps even 2021 — depending upon what the Ravens think of Ingram’s contract. They would save $5 million against the cap if Ingram is released after the season.
And as for whether Dobbins was the right pick or not, it’s all about what your view of the position, and the Ravens roster, is.
The Ravens’ view is now crystal clear.
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