The Ravens’ selection of running back J.K. Dobbins in April’s draft was, in a lot of ways, a luxury pick.
The Ravens broke the single-season rushing record a year ago with 3,296 yards on the ground. Their top running back, Mark Ingram, had 202 carries for 1,018 yards. Quarterback Lamar Jackson broke the single-season rushing record for quarterbacks with 1,206 yards on 176 carries. Even the backup running back, Gus Edwards, rushed for 711 yards with a 5.3 yards-per-carry average.
Dobbins, on paper, simply wasn’t a need for the Ravens.
In the months since the selection, though, he’s flashed on and off the field. Coaches have been impressed by how he’s not only performed on the field, but away from the field as well. That has led to the question of how, and how much, Dobbins can be used in the Ravens’ backfield. And for now, that's staying under wraps.
“I think he’s definitely going to have a role,” coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday. “He’s definitely going to have probably a significant role, but again, it comes down to how it goes. He’s looked really good in practice. He works really hard. He’s just the most coachable guy. He has a lot of talent, and he’s very coachable. So, he wants to be good, he wants to play. He’s confident. Confidence plus coachability plus talent; it’s a pretty good combination, and he has all of that.”
At Ohio State a season ago, Dobbins rushed for 2,003 yards on 301 carries with 21 touchdowns. Now, he’ll be in a backfield with three returners, all of whom figure to be on the 53-man roster to start the season. And how much he’ll see the field to start the season is still up in the air — at least publicly.
The first and most notable hindrance to touches for Dobbins is the lack of a preseason. While he’s been impressive in training camp practices, the coaching staff hasn’t seen reps from Dobbins in a live game. While that will change on Sept. 13 against the Browns, how much of a factor he’ll be in the early part of the season remains to be seen.
The Ravens coaches, undoubtedly, prefer it that way.
But one of Dobbins’ competitors for touches in a crowded backfield doesn’t see any setback for the new member of the running back room.
“My rookie year, we actually had five preseason games, so I had a lot of time to prepare and be ready,” Edwards said. “I think J.K. is going to be good; he’s going to be just fine. He’s been getting a lot of reps. He’s been getting better each and every day. He’s been coming to work, so I think he’ll do just fine without it.”
The next question, simply, is a math equation.
Over 16 games last season, the Ravens attempted 596 carries — by far the most in the league. Ingram and Jackson ranked 20th and 23rd in the league, respectively, in carries while Edwards ranked 34th. With another option for offensive coordinator Greg Roman to utilize across the field, it’s unclear if the Ravens will use a running-back-by-committee approach, or if a running back on the roster will be left out entirely.
The Ravens attempted 1,064 plays a year ago, meaning 56 percent of their offensive snaps turned out to be carries. Including pass plays, Ravens running backs accounted for 41.72 percent of last year’s touches.
With a now totally healthy Marquise Brown paired with the selections of wideouts Devin Duvernay and James Proche in the draft, the Ravens’ options to throw the ball will be more enticing than ever.
“My thing is just keep going hard, and the chips will fall into place,” Dobbins said Tuesday. “Of course, I’m not going to be patient. I’m working as hard as I can to play, to get on the field and help this team win. The other things, that’ll take care of itself. I don’t really know what kind of impression I’ve given off, but hopefully it’s a good one.”
The Dobbins question is one of the most interesting storylines surrounding the Ravens entering Week 1 of the 2020 season, which will certainly be a year like no other.
The Ravens have boasted that all of their running backs can do something unique and compliment each other well. What that looks like on the field, however, will remain a secret until kickoff.
“I don’t want to talk too much about that, but all those guys can do something well,” Dobbins said. “Every player in the room is great. We’ve all got our different styles. I don’t really know how to answer that question. But I believe a lot of people don’t know that, in college, I had a lot of catches, and stuff like that. So, I can catch the ball out of the backfield, and things like that. But everyone in the room could do that. We’re all pretty well-rounded. I really don’t even know.”