With back-up running back Ricky Williams announcing his retirement yesterday the Baltimore Ravens will have yet another hole to fill this off-season. In the past, Baltimore has had as many as four running backs on the active roster. This past season the team went mostly with just Ray Rice and Williams dressed on game day. They also have Anthony Allen who spent part of the season injured but was inactive for the majority off the season when healthy.
It will be interesting to see what direction the Ravens decide to go with in bringing in another back. There are very few NFL teams that apply a one back offense these days and Rice is best used with a complementary back so he doesn't have to carry the whole load on his own. I'm not sure the team is confident in Allen to be the number one back up. Even if they are they will need at least one more back on the roster.
In the free agent market there are plenty of running backs available this season. Some are undoubtedly out of the teams price range like Peyton Hillis and Matt Forte but there are a few out there that may be perfect for the Ravens.
Notable free agent running backs:
Jason Snelling ATL, Tashard Choice BUF, Peyton Hillis CLE, Ryan Grant GB, Ladainian Tomlinson NYJ, Isaac Redman PIT, Mike Tolbert SD, Marshawn Lynch SEA, Earnest Graham TB, Michael Bush OAK, Matt Forte CHI.
The player I'd most like to see in the purple and black in Marshawn Lynch. Lynch plays with reckless abandon and would be the perfect compliment for a guy like Rice. Not only is he powerful but he is shifty and quick. I'm not sure if Baltimore could afford him but he is definitely at the top of my wish list as far as free agents go. Lynch could actually challenge Rice for playing time as he plays hard on every down, making him hard to remove from the game.
That being said I could also see the Ravens making a play for Oakland's Michael Bush, San Diego's Mike Tolbert or Pittsburgh's Isaac Redman. Again, I'm not sure how the market will shake out for these guys but each one could be a good fit here in Baltimore.
The other option for the Ravens would be to draft a running back. This years draft is not exactly top heavy with NFL ready backs but there are several options that could be had in the middle to late rounds. The best back in the draft is undoubtedly Alabama's Trent Richardson. He is projected to be a top 15 pick and most likely will not be around for the Ravens first pick. However, after Richardson the field drops off quite a bit. Baltimore could potentially land a number of different viable options if they so choose. Below I will list the top running backs in the draft and the round they are projected to be drafted. (projections from walterfootball.com)
Notable running backs in the 2012 NFL Draft:
Trent Richardson, Alabama top 15 pick, Lamar Miller, Miami round 1-2, Chris Polk, Washington 2nd round, David Wilson, Virginia Tech round 2-3, LaMichael James, Oregon round 3, Doug Martin, Boise State round 3-4, Bernard Pierce, Temple round 4-5, Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati round 4-5,Vick Ballard, Mississippi State round 4-5, Cyrus Gray Texas A&M round 4-5.
Of these players I'd like to see the Ravens draft LaMichael James if he is available in the third round. To me that seems a bit late but hey, what do I know. He is said to be a third down back at the NFL level because he is undersized and can not carry the full load. Sounds a bit like what was being said about Rice a couple of years ago... Besides that is all we need, another dynamic player to bring on the field when Ray needs a breather. Of course the while the addition of James would make the offense more explosive the Ravens would still have a need for a power back. Vonta Leach could be used in this position to a degree but I don't think you want him getting more than five carries a game. And that is pushing it.
Here is what Walterfootball.com had to say about James:
1/16/12: To start the season, James struggled against LSU. It was the second straight game in which he was contained by a quality SEC defense. James ran for only 54 yards on 18 carries with a score. After a slow start, he turned it on and tore up some weaker competition. The junior recorded four games this year where he went over 200 yards rushing.
In 2011, James had 1,805 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 210 yards and a score. James missed a couple of games in the middle of the year after suffering a dislocated elbow. The elbow injury was a tough blow to his draft stock since there were already durability concerns and some question about his ability to stay healthy in the NFL.
At the pro level, James should be viewed as a change of pace and third-down back. He does not have the size and durability to be an every down player. That makes James a luxury pick to a degree, but he could be an effective piece in an offense if used correctly.
8/18/11: LaMichael James is an electric playmaker who led Oregon to an appearance in the National Championship Game. He led college football with 1,731 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns in 2010. James has averaged 6.3 yards per carry in his career. He has some receiving ability with 34 catches for 376 yards and three scores. Running backs typically fall in the draft, but 5-foot-9, 195-pounder is dynamite playmaker who could go much earlier.
James has the ability to score on any carry from any part of the field. Like Richardson, James is a favorite contender for the Heisman. The only knock on James that keeps him out of the first round is his lack of size.
So who do you think the Ravens will bring in to fill the shoes of Ricky Williams? Will it be through the draft, free agency or someone already in the organization?