Last weekend, the Baltimore Ravens left the three days of the NFL Draft with two new tight ends, a quarterback, right tackle, two new wide receivers, and some depth on the defense at middle linebacker, cornerback, safety and defensive end. Baltimore did what they could, and were looking for the best value on every selection. While the team had many people satisfied, there was a position in which some felt they also could’ve addressed, but never did during the draft - running back.
The Ravens had opportunities to select a running back in this draft if they wanted to. After Saquon Barkley, the next best running back to many was LSU’s Derrius Guice and he was available all four times when the Ravens were on the clock last Thursday night. Baltimore would end up trading down twice at 16 and 22, then selected tight end Hayden Hurst at 25, and quarterback Lamar Jackson at 32. Guice fell to the second-round amid concerns about his attitude and maturity. He was also the seventh running back taken in this draft as he watched prospects such as Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson, Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones, and Rashaad Penny all drafted before him.
When you look at the Ravens running back depth chart, you can see why they decided not to address the position. Through the final two months of the 2017 season, the Ravens offense played well and were second only to the New England Patriots in points per game during that stretch. The improved play of quarterback Joe Flacco and the offensive line was a factor, but one of the biggest reasons was the running game. Especially the emergence of Alex Collins and the reemergence of Javorius Allen.
It’s amazing to think about because Allen and Collins were not originally seen as players who were going to make much of an impact last season. The rushing attack was supposed to be carried by Danny Woodhead, Terrance West, and 2016 fourth-round selection Kenneth Dixon. Dixon however, would miss the entire season due to suspension and a torn meniscus. Woodhead missed seven games after injuring his hamstring in Week 1, and West battled a calf injury, only appearing in five games last year. Collins was signed in September after the Dixon injury and was promoted to the active roster to take Woodhead’s spot.
From there, Collins and Allen would end up becoming the Ravens two-headed rushing attack as the season went on, as Collins rushed for 973 yards and six touchdowns with his best game coming against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday Night Football. Allen showed potential during his rookie campaign, but was limited to just eight games two years ago when West and Dixon began playing well. Allen took advantage of an opportunity by rushing for 591 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. Proving to be a great change of pace running back to Collins. Allen was also valuable in the passing game for Flacco as he caught 46 receptions for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
There is a caveat to all this. Baltimore is banking on both Collins and Allen, while also hoping Dixon can round back to form. Dixon is all of a sudden the wild-card after missing all of 2017. Two seasons ago, Dixon looked to be the franchise running back for the future, until Collins came along. The Ravens also hope that Allen can continue improving now that he is entering a contract year.
Collins, as good as he looked, now has a season of film on him and teams will be much more prepared to face him this year. There is also the concern of fumbles when it comes to the former Arkansas running back. The Ravens and running backs coach Thomas Hammock will have to work in practice to fix the issue completely. Collins will either prove to be the running back the team has been waiting for since Ray Rice, or the carousel at the position will continue.
Baltimore clearly has great faith in Collins and Allen, as well as hope for Dixon. If all three stay healthy and active, they could make some serious noise in the NFL in 2018 after finishing with the 11th best rushing attack in 2017. That’s what the Ravens are aiming for entering a crucial season.