Should the Ravens consider starting Gus Edwards over J.K. Dobbins?

Ravens, Gus Edwards (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Ravens, Gus Edwards (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Running back J.K. Dobbins, the Baltimore Ravens second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, began last season third on the Ravens running back depth chart behind veteran Mark Ingram and undrafted third-year player Gus Edwards.

By the end of the season, however, he became the de facto starter, his performances delighting Ravens fans and fantasy owners everywhere.

According to an overwhelming majority of media prognosticators and Ravens insiders, Dobbins should be the team’s starter heading into his sophomore season.

A quick glance at a couple of his most visible statistics seems to confirm that he deserves the role:

  • 6.0 yards per attempt (led all NFL running backs)
  • 9 rushing touchdowns (tied for 11th)
  • 805 yards

On the other hand, his backup, Gus Edwards, logged the following:

  • 5.0 yards per attempt
  • 6 rushing touchdowns
  • 723 yards

Although Edwards’ numbers are clearly better than those of an average running back, they were a tick below his career averages.

And, even though the Ravens just re-signed Edwards to a solid two-year, $10 million extension, they’re apparently planning on deploying him as the heavily-used backup to Dobbins.

The Ravens should consider giving Gus Edwards more snaps than J.K. Dobbins.

After digging deeper into the statistics, however, the Ravens should reconsider their running back depth chart. For starters, Edwards’ 2020 Pro Football Focus grade of 85.8 was more than 14.0 points higher than Dobbins’ rating.

While Dobbins posted great numbers, they were inflated by the game situations in which the Ravens called his number.

The Ravens utilized Edwards in obvious running situations, as he faced eight defenders in the box 34 percent of the time, while Dobbins did so on a mere 23 percent of his carries. It makes sense, as the coaching staff knows Edwards is the more powerful runner.

He broke a tackle every 13.1 attempts. Dobbins only did so every 19.1 attempts.

That also explains why Dobbins often found more running room than his counterpart, as his rushes averaged 3.1 yards before contact, as compared to Edwards’ 2.3 yards before contact.

While we can’t discount Dobbins’ explosiveness, his long run of 72 yards was twice as long as Edwards’ longest rush. It’s worth questioning whether he should be the Ravens’ lead back.

Over his career, Gus Edwards has gained yards on 89.1 percent of his carries — the highest rate in the NFL. His reliability and consistency have allowed Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense to keep the chains moving, and it makes sense to allow him to keep doing so.

That said, both running backs should continue to split carries in Baltimore’s dangerous backfield. Both can be deadly both when running with and catching the football.

If the Baltimore Ravens plan to keep rushing the football at the rate at which they’ve done so the past two seasons, opponents will continue to stack the box. John Harbaugh and Greg Roman should consider featuring Gus Edwards as the Baltimore Ravens starting running back in 2021.

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If, however, the Ravens decide to implement more spread concepts as they integrate Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, and the other young receivers into their offense, perhaps J.K. Dobbins truly should claim the starting role that the Ravens have already bestowed upon him.