J.K. Dobbins is a prime breakout candidate heading into the 2021 season, but are the Baltimore Ravens ready to embrace him as such?
The Baltimore Ravens have a future superstar in their backfield with J.K. Dobbins. Will 2021 be the year we see him assume that role in full?
In the 2020 NFL Draft, the major conversation at running back amongst pundits was, for the most part, between D’Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor in terms of who would be the most successful. Just behind those two men was a player from the University of Ohio State coming off the best season in school history at his position, a player who Eric DeCosta and company were more than happy to steal off the board in the second round. This player, as we all know, is J.K. Dobbins.
In his first season in Baltimore, we saw glimpse after glimpse of what Dobbins is capable of as his workload increased, most notably during divisional games against Pittsburgh and the playoff-clinching win in Cincinnati. That increase is a trend that needs to continue into 2021, because another true season-long system of “running back by committee” may be doing both Dobbins and the Ravens a vast disservice.
In his first two years of college, J.K Dobbins compiled a total of 2,456 yards on the ground on just short of 430 carries (5.8 ypc) with 17 touchdowns. Fantastic numbers indeed, but during his third and final season in which he was THE guy and amassed 301 carries, he went off for a whopping 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Dobbins is an every-down back through and through. For him to reach his full potential in the NFL though, this season has to at least be the start of the Ravens featuring him as such. It’s been far too long since the Ravens have had a true franchise running back, but all indications up to now have shown that this can be changed if the Ravens embrace him in that way.
Now, this doesn’t mean Gus Edwards should be unceremoniously thrown out the door this year, especially given that the Ravens are able to put a second-round tender on him for any team wishing to acquire his services. It just means that there’s a budding superstar amongst the Ravens ranks, one that needs to be fed the vast majority of the work on the ground to reach the heights he’s capable of.
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A good template to use would be the percentage split in carries between Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard in Dallas. Pollard finished this past season with a shade over 100 carries and was certainly a contributing piece of the Cowboys offense, but ultimately it was and is Zeke’s show down in the Big D. With what we saw from J.K. Dobbins this season, and more notably in college, there’s no reason to believe he can’t shoulder a similar workload heading into year two.
Sharing carries on this Baltimore offense will always be a given to an extent as long as Lamar Jackson is lining up at quarterback, but on a team that’s guaranteed to be top 2-3 in rushing attempts on a yearly basis (most likely #1), there’s certainly enough work for Dobbins to start having more of a bell cow-type role as well.
A true committee backfield seems great on paper and arguing that it hasn’t worked for the Ravens over the last few seasons would be silly, but it never allows any one back, in particular, to really build a rhythm. Certain players are most effective when they get that 19th or 20th carry, whether it’s by sheer brute force like the behemoth in Tennessee or a frustrating shiftiness that just wears on you, which is the case with Dobbins.
Increasing the workload will also help build his confidence as he takes another step forward as a pro, both in himself and in the team’s ultimate plans for him. If Dobbins spends his first four years in the league averaging anywhere from 10-14 carries a game due to a multi-back scheme commitment (despite showing he’s capable of more), you’d have to imagine the likelihood of him re-signing with Baltimore would be pretty low. Other teams would almost surely come calling with promises of more opportunity once his contract is up, so why not be the first to offer that chance early on if you’re the Ravens?
Sure, Dobbins could certainly use some work on his pass blocking, but very few prospects are perfect coming out of their rookie season. With a full off-season finally on the horizon this coming Spring/Summer, that’s an issue that can easily be improved, and maybe that slight improvement is just what the Ravens’ coaching staff is waiting for before fully handing him the keys.
There’s a reason so many members of the Ravens Flock look at J.K. Dobbins’ skill set and immediately compare him to Ray Rice, and their sharing of the number 27 only scratches the surface.
J.K. Dobbins proved beyond any doubt in college that he’s more than capable of shouldering any load given to him and excelling, in one of the best conferences in the country. In 2021, it’s time for the Ravens to see if that holds true on Sundays as well.