Looking ahead to the 2014 season, we already know that one of Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce is going to lead the way for the Ravens at the running back position. It could be Pierce for the entire season, or Rice could reclaim the starting job once he returns from suspension. But both have a checkered injury history, which is partly why the Ravens picked up Justin Forsett in free agency and drafted Lorenzo Taliaferro in the fourth round this offseason.
Forsett ran as Rice’s direct backup through minicamp as Pierce recovers from his January shoulder surgery. This is not at all surprising since Forsett is a veteran and likely better in pass protection at this point than Taliaferro. It is not uncommon for rookie running backs to struggle with pass pro early in their careers. Barring total catastrophe, we may not see Taliaferro on the field much in 2014. But the real question is, how likely is he to take over the starting job down the road in 2015 or 2016?
If Taliaferro shows that he can block through training camp and the preseason, he can easily beat out Forsett. Forsett is a career journeyman who lacks special running ability or vision. He’s a guy who can get what is blocked, though he does sport a respectable 4.9 yard per carry average on his career. But it speaks volumes that he couldn’t carve out a role with the Jags last year even when they were struggling on offense and starter Maurice Jones-Drew appeared to be running in sand.
Taliaferro had a productive college career at Coastal Carolina (Go Chants!), racking up 32 touchdowns and 2,086 yards on 356 carries across two seasons. He also averaged one catch per game. At 6 1/4 feet tall and 229 pounds, Taliaferro clocked a 4.58 at the combine and posted a 9′ 10″ broad jump. Taliaferro showcased some hard charging talent in college but his biggest pre-draft knock was his lack of explosiveness.
Patience is a hallmark of the zone blocking system that the Ravens are implementing in 2014 under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, so Taliaferro’s lack of explosiveness may not hurt him too much. He simply needs to learn how to be patient and use his vision to find the open hole, which sometimes take time to develop in this system.
The Ravens appear to have high hopes for Taliaferro, and he received a great deal of praise from John Harbaugh following rookie minicamp back in May. “I thought Lorenzo was very smooth running the ball,” Harbaugh said. “He did a nice job picking up the aiming points and the reads. He looks like he is a big guy, a downhill guy. I was very impressed with what kind of shape he is in. “There is not an ounce of fat on him, and he is 230 pounds. Very good at pass protection. I thought he showed excellent hands and get-away ability on his routes when he went against a linebacker.”
That’s high praise for a rookie, regardless of who you play for. It genuinely sounds like Harbaugh is excited over Taliaferro’s potential and the team will most certainly give him every chance to succeed. Barring injury, his ceiling is most likely going to be a change of pace back this season, but he could very well seize the starting job down the road. While we still have love for Bernard Pierce (who is only 24 years old), his checkered injury history doesn’t bode well for his long term outlook as a high volume runner. There is definitely room for Taliaferro to “run away” with the job.
Do you think that Lorenzo Taliaferro is the Raven’s running back of the future?