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2018, not 2017, is the year to select a running back in the first round

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Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - USC v Penn State Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As the NFL draft approaches, the Ravens have reportedly gained interest in selecting a running back in the early rounds. The 2017 running back class is stacked, as Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey headline what is arguably the greatest class at the position of all time. However, despite the elite talent available, and the need for an offensive playmaker on the roster, the Ravens would be wise to wait until 2018 to invest in a potential star running back.

The Ravens have bigger needs on the roster than running back coming into this year, and the 2017 draft class is well suited to meet those needs. Wide receiver, cornerback, and pass rusher are the clear needs that GM Ozzie Newsome needs to address. This year’s draft class not only have incredible talent at cornerback and pass rusher, but these position groups are deeper than many drafts in recent memory. Next year’s draft has nowhere near the skill nor depth at either the cornerback or edge rusher positions respectively.

The wide receiver group is not particularly deep, but sports two potentially transcendent stars in Corey Davis of Western Michigan and Mike Williams of Clemson. The 2018 draft class does not boast any receiver with the talent or potential of Davis or Williams.

Instead of taking a running back in the first round, the Ravens should first look to add one of the potential superstar wide receivers. If both Davis and Williams are off the board at the 16th overall selection, Newsome should turn his attention to cornerback or pass rusher.

Not only should the Ravens pass on top running backs in this year’s draft in order to fill more pressing needs, but the organization needs to give a chance to the young talent already on the roster at running back.

Kenneth Dixon missed the first four games of his rookie 2016 season, and slowly gained more and more playing time upon his return. In Week 14, Dixon had his breakout game. Against the Super Bowl bound New England Patriots defense, Dixon racked up 39 yards on 11 carries, and added 42 yards on eight catches.

Dixon showed flashes of immense potential in his rookie year. Dixon proved to be a threat both running the ball and receiving it. In addition, Dixon runs much harder than his 5’10” 212 frame suggests. In seemingly every game he played, he broke tackles with power, not finesse. In addition Dixon has fantastic footwork, and can create extra yardage with his shiftiness. He, however, has not been able to put it all together at one time.

Kenneth Dixon deserves a chance to prove what he can do over the course of a full season, but he isn’t the answer.

Travel northeast from Baltimore on I-83 and Route 22, and you’ll find yourself in State College, PA, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, and home of the solution to the Ravens backfield conundrum.

Enter Saquon Barkley, the best running back in college football.

Barkley burst onto the scene in his incredible freshman season, where he rushed for over 1000 yards. In his sophomore year, he was even better, falling just short of 1500 yards on the ground. Add his 402 receiving yards, and Barkley finished just two yards short of 1900 total yards in the 2016-17 season. Barkley rushed for over 190 yards three times (202 against Minnesota, 207 against Purdue and 194 against USC). In addition, Barkley found the end zone a total of 22 times. These numbers are exceedingly impressive, as Penn State’s offensive line was the Achilles heal of the Nittany Lions offense.

Barkley’s running style very much reminds me of Le’Veon Bell. Barkley has excellent patience, and bursts out from the line with a quick jump cut, just as Bell does. Barkley also is shifty and powerful enough to make plays in the open field. Barkley puts all of these attributes together in his 79 yard touchdown run against USC in the Rose Bowl.

Barkley also has high end speed as, according to Penn Live, Barkley recorded a 4.38 40 yard dash time. Barkley shows off his speed, and patience, in this 81-yard touchdown against Purdue.

Finally, Barkley has incredible athleticism. Barkley’s highlight tapes are filled with him jumping over would-be tacklers, like he does in this incredible run against Maryland.

Barkley is set to play his junior season for a Penn State team that will be a contender for a national title. Barkley will likely be the number one running back in next year’s draft class, and this coming season will allow him an opportunity to develop into an even better runner. However in a draft class that is stacked at positions where the Ravens have bigger needs, finding an explosive running back is not the top priority. Barkley is the game changer out of the backfield that the Ravens need, but just like Barkley in the backfield, Ravens fans will need to exercise patience.