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Is there a changing of the guard at running back in progress?

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Ever since Ray Rice was cut due to his domestic violence case, the Ravens have been searching for a playmaking running back. It felt like the team quickly found their guy with the emergence of Justin Forsett in 2014. Forsett however, was not able to maintain his success beyond his 2014 season, and is now a member of the Detroit Lions. The Ravens have played around with multiple different options, ranging from Javorius “Buck” Allen in 2015, to Terrance West in 2016. Allen played extremely well in what was a 2015 season to forget for the Ravens, but lost his place on the depth chart due to the emergence of Terrance West. Ever since Week 4 against Oakland, West has played very well for the Ravens. The Towson product has averaged 65 yards a game since his breakout against the Raiders. But his production has slightly tailed off since the Week 7 loss to the Jets. West had a solid 65 yard day against the Browns in Week 10, but it was his rookie counterpart, Kenneth Dixon, that stole the show.

The Ravens selected Dixon in the fourth round of 2016 draft, out of Louisiana Tech. Dixon was widely regarded at the time to be the third best running back in the draft, behind just Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry respectively. Lance Zierlein compared Dixon to Thomas Rawls before the draft, due to Dixon’s similar ability to Rawls to provide a threat both as a runner and as a receiver. But the more I have watched Kenneth Dixon, the more I see Ray Rice.

In Week 10 against the Browns, Dixon showed off his skill set as a runner, rushing for 38 yards on just six carries (6.8 yards per attempt), and catching five passes for 42 yards (8.4 yards per catch). Despite the soft matchup with Cleveland, Dixon displayed his playmaking ability. Similar to Rice, Dixon was able to make guys miss between the numbers, as well as get outside and take screen passes 10-12 yards down the field. The Browns largely struggled to contain him, as Dixon provided a kick start for the Ravens inconsistent offense.

Despite the below video being of Dixon in college instead of the NFL, it still does a great job displaying Dixon’s skill set.

Dixon shows multiple different ways to beat defenders in this video. He can beat you with speed and strength. There are runs where Dixon purely blows past defenders untouched, but it is also clear that he is shifty enough to make potential tacklers miss. He also can lower his shoulder, keep his legs churning, and frankly outmuscle defenders. For a guy with his 5’10” 212 pound frame, that combination of skills is something special, something very similar to Rice.

No disrespect to Terrance West and how well he has played this year, but Dixon is the Ravens running back of the future. He provides the playmaking ability the Ravens have coveted since cutting Rice, and it was on full display in Week 10.

Many expected that Dixon would eat into Terrance West’s workload upon his return, and despite it happening slower than expected, it is clearly in progress. With just 11 total touches in Week 10, Dixon had 80 total yards. The Ravens need his explosiveness and playmaking ability on the field. Facing the high powered Cowboys offense in Week 11, the Ravens are going to need all the playmaking they can get. I would not be surprised to see Dixon surpass 10 carries against Dallas at all, in fact, he needs to break into double digit carries.

This situation seems a lot like what the Denver Broncos have experienced this season. C.J. Anderson started the season as the clear number one option in the Broncos backfield, but slowly over the course of the season, rookie Devontae Booker stole more and more carries. Anderson’s season ending injury moved Booker into the starting spot for the remainder of the season, and with the way the Utah product is playing, Anderson may find himself on the bench to start the 2017 season. The Ravens running backs could find parallels to this story as the 2016 season progresses.

No, Dixon won’t be starting this week, and it’s unlikely he starts in the near future, but Dixon is going to work this backfield into a committee, and don’t be surprised if the rookie takes over by the end of the 2016 regular season. West may be the present, but there is no question Dixon is the future.