The Baltimore Ravens didn’t hit free agency hard or make any ground-breaking signings, instead, the team has added some great role players and resigned one of their top-priorities to take care of this off-season in linebacker Jameel McClain.
While the Ravens aren’t without their roster holes in need of repair this off-season, most noticeably along the offensive line, they’re going about their business as usual without panic or worry. And like always, there’s a perfectly good reason why they’ve put forth an almost "ho-hum" attitude towards the off-season’s processes.
The reason that the Ravens seem almost lackadaisical about the pressing needs of the overall roster is simple: they get it right the first time. They draft the right players at the right times when they need them and when the moment comes, they promote them into starting roles.
It’s actually rather eerie, almost as if GM Ozzie Newsome has a crystal ball through which he can see the team’s future. After all, they don’t call him "The Wizard" for nothing.
The Ravens have lost a lot of free agents this off-season which in turn has created certain roster needs that the Ravens must eventually address one way or another. While running back Ricky Williams didn’t get signed away by another team, his retirement from NFL action has created a hole on the roster which the Ravens must address. Ray Rice is without a doubt the feature back in Baltimore, but now the question becomes: who will be Rice’s backup?
(After the "Jump", questions surround whether or not the Ravens will follow their previous FA RB trend, and why I believe that Anthony Allen is the answer to become Rice’s full-time back-up.)
Over the past several years, the Ravens have looked towards free agency as a way to build depth at running back. Last year the Ravens signed Ricky Williams just shortly before the start of the season and the Ravens sent draft picks to the Buffalo Bills for Willis McGahee after the 2006 season. This has been the trend now for a while: find a competent, solid backup for Rice until they’re expendable, unproductive, or they retire. With the free agency running back market mostly drying up the organization right up against the salary cap, the Ravens will have to look elsewhere for a new backup running back.
As mentioned before, the Ravens, more often than not, get the players they need through the draft at just the right time. I believe that one of those players that the Ravens hit on at the right time through the draft is 2nd-year running back Anthony Allen. Allen was selected by the Ravens in last year’s draft in the 7th round (225th overall).
As last season wore on and into the playoffs, it became clear that the Ravens needed a bigger, "bruiser" of a running back that could pick up the "tough" yards and would compliment the smaller, shiftier Rice. Ricky Williams fit this mold very well for his one season with the Ravens, but now that he has retired, Allen should get his shot to compete for the gig of backing up Rice.
Cut from the same mold as Williams as a hard-nosed, big running back, Allen could very well be the long-term solution to the Ravens’ needs of a full-time back behind Rice. At 6-0 230 lbs., Allen certainly has the size that you would want from a bruising running back. While he slid down draft boards last year, it seems as though the reason he fell so far was because he came out of Georgia Tech’s option offense which utilizes several running backs as well as the quarterback to gain the desired yardage on the ground. Also, many thought that Allen might have a difficult time transitioning to a pro-style offense after spending so much time in an option scheme.
While it’s uncertain at this point whether or not any of those worries that some may have had about Allen will come true, he’s had a full season now to work his way into an NFL playbook and will have a full off-season between now and September to refine his skills and knowledge of the game.
Certainly, the expectations placed on Allen for the upcoming season shouldn’t be too great, either. At this point, it’s his job to lose. Maybe he won’t light the world on fire; maybe he will. Either way, the Ravens don’t need Allen to be a super-mega-ultra star. They only need him to be a solid addition to an already dangerous backfield that can gain some "tough" yards and pick up 1st downs on short down and distance situations. A look back on Williams’ rushing stats should be a good out-line and starting point of what the Ravens need in Allen.
Last season, Williams rushed for: 108 carries/444 yards/4.1 yards-per carry average/2 TDs. The Ravens finished the regular season ranked 10th overall in the NFL in average rush-yards-per-game with 124.8 yards. While Rice is the primary back and carries the majority of the work-load, Williams was still an integral part of that and Allen should be able to pick up where he left off.
Surely, there will be some who don’t believe that the Ravens can afford to have a 2nd-year, 7th round draft pick become a full-time running back behind Rice, but to that I would point out the fact that over the past several years, NFL running backs aren’t valued nearly as much as they used to be and now, in most cases, they are interchangeable and expendable. A good example is Houston Texans’ Arian Foster who went un-drafted in 2009 and has since exploded onto the scene as one of the NFL’s top rushers. Running backs are just easier to find in today’s NFL and as we’ve seen recently, where a running back gets drafted has no bearing on how they’ll perform in the NFL.
The Ravens have a need at running back. Anthony Allen fills that need. It’s a simple as that. Even if the Ravens could afford an expensive, big-named free agent running back, why would they sign him when they already have a cheaper, younger, and seemingly better fit for the position already on the roster?