The Ravens suffered an absolutely brutal blow when it was reported that promising young running back Kenneth Dixon would miss the entire 2017 season with a meniscus tear. Dixon was already slated to miss the first four games of the 2017 season due to a suspension. However, now the Ravens will not just have to replace four games for Dixon’s production, but instead 16. That could very well be about 70-100 carries that need to be taken. How will the Ravens running game look with Kenneth Dixon out for the year?
Chronologically, the first thing Dixon’s injury will influence is who makes the 53-man roster at the start of the season. Terrance West and Danny Woodhead appear to be locks to make the 53 man roster, leaving either one or two spots up for grabs. These will be fought for between Javorius “Buck” Allen, Bobby Rainey and Taquan Mizzell. Of the three, I’ll predict that Rainey is the most likely to make the roster. If two of those three make it, I could very well see Allen being the odd one out.
Assuming the Ravens keep three running backs, West, Woodhead and Rainey, here’s how I believe the touches will be distributed. The vast majority of the handoffs will go to West. West, while at times inconsistent, showed flashes last year of being a productive back, in no game more clearly than the loss to the Oakland Raiders. Woodhead will serve as the third down back, as well as be on the field for a heavy portion of the passing downs. While largely known as a receiving back, Woodhead has had over 75 carries in five of his eight seasons in the NFL. Rainey is somewhat of a similar player to Woodhead, meaning his role will be similar to Woodhead’s. Rainey will sit behind West and Woodhead on the depth chart, and will clean up whatever scraps of carries or receptions are left over.
While this plan obviously is not as exciting as what the Ravens would have gotten with Dixon, it is a plan that could work for the length of the season. West will need to not only step up, but also take a step forward in becoming a reliable early down back. If he can do that, then the Ravens running game will be just fine. We know what we are getting with Woodhead and Rainey, but it is on West’s shoulder’s that this running game hinges on with Dixon done for the year. If West is unable to develop the way he needs to, then expect the Ravens to look for a surprising running back cut during training camp (Ryan Mathews and Carlos Hyde are names that have flown around as players that could be unexpectedly cut) to try helping out the running back corps.
Losing Dixon for the year hurts, a lot. However, the Ravens have dealt with their fair share of injuries over the years, and have always lived on a next-man-up mentality. With training camp ready to get underway, that mentality will be relied on once again.