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Could the Ravens split touches between their four running backs in 2020?

Could the Ravens split touches between their four running backs in 2020?

The Ravens have the best kind of problem brewing in their backfield, in that they might have too many mouths to feed.

Should the Ravens keep four running backs on the roster next season, they’ll be left with the issue of how to get all of them involved in the offense. But at a position that is so hard on the body, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at first glance.

Mark Ingram, the team’s starting running back, is 30-years-old and had more than 200 carries last season. Gus Edwards posted 133 carries. Justice Hill saw the field the least out of the three and had just 58 carries in 16 games. And the team’s newest toy in the backfield, J.K. Dobbins, carried the ball 301 times last season and 687 times total in college.

Essentially, the Ravens’ running backs have some miles on their bodies and it’s important to keep them fresh. But how?

The Ravens ran the ball 596 times last season, 98 more times than the second-place 49ers did. The Ravens were also one of three teams — the others being the Cardinals and Titans — that ran the ball for more than five-yards-per-carry.

A large part of that efficiency revolved around quarterback Lamar Jackson’s ability to scramble out of the pocket, as he carried the ball 176 times last year for 1,206 yards — the most ever for a quarterback. His dynamic abilities kept the pressure off the Ravens’ running backs and allowed them to mostly be the second-threat for a defensive gameplan.

But perhaps what the Ravens did most impressively last season was that they accomplished everything without a true workhorse rusher.

Ingram’s 202 carries placed him 20th in the league in amount of carries, while Jackson’s 176 placed him 23rd. Jackson and Ingram were the only two players with less than 217 carries to rush for more than 1,000 yards. Edwards, the team’s clear third option in the rushing attack, carried the ball 133 times — 34th in the league. For a team that ran the ball more than anyone in the league, and for more yards than anyone in the league ever had, that's an impressive way to keep guys fresh.

Now with Dobbins in the mix, and Hill another year into his career, paired with the Ravens’ desire to become a more balanced team from the one that passed the ball just 44 percent of the time last season, keeping all four backs involved could prove difficult.

The simplest answer, though, is to get rid of one.

Edwards would be the likeliest option, as a team could swoop in and realize the Ravens’ surplus of talent at running back and make a minor deal to bring Edwards in as a running back that could compete for a starting role.

A closer examination of who is on the market still, however, shows that’s not easy to pull off.

With a handful of veteran free agent options on the market still, it’s not likely a team would shell out any noteworthy draft capital to bring Edwards or even Hill onboard during training camp. In that case, it’d likely be worth it for the Ravens to just hang onto their stable of running backs in case of injury or poor performance.

If all four are on the roster next year, though, they’ll be left with figuring out how to manage their snap counts.

The Ravens attempted 1,064 plays last season, 596 of which were runs, 440 were passes and 28 were sacks. Ingram was involved in 231 of those plays (21.71 percent), Edwards was involved in 140 (13.15 percent) and Hill was involved in 73 (6.86 percent).

Of the Ravens’ total offensive plays, running backs account for 41.72 percent in either rush attempts or receiving targets.

 

Over the offseason, they continued to invest at the skill positions. Baltimore drafted Dobbins 55th and wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche at 92nd and 201st overall, respectively. That’s not accounting for the increased health of wideout Marquise Brown and the expected improvement of receiver Miles Boykin, either. 

While an increase in pass attempts could account for more plays with more stopped clocks, the Ravens still ranked seventh in total offensive plays from scrimmage last season. The league’s leader, the Eagles, ran 1,104 plays. Even if the Ravens are able to run 1,100 plays next season, nearly 40 more than they ran in 2019 and just shy of the league's leader from a year ago, there is still a finite number of possibilities for the Ravens’ to get everyone involved.

If they stick with their running mantra, Boykin or Brown might not see the second-year jumps everyone is hoping for. Perhaps Mark Andrews, who led the team in receptions and targets a year ago, sees a dip in production with more faces in the crowd.

But if Jackson attempts more passes in the 2020 season and the wide receivers get more involved, the simple answer is that someone in the backfield is going to get left out.

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