In his press conference at the NFL combine on Wednesday, head coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence in Gus Edwards. Harbaugh proclaimed that entering the upcoming season, Edwards, a former undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, is the lead back on the Ravens roster.
"Gus is our #1 RB going in." pic.twitter.com/1wgQptGcDv— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) February 27, 2019
Given his performance down the stretch of last season, this should come as no surprise. Edwards did more than enough to earn a larger role heading into his sophomore campaign, rushing for 718 yards and two touchdowns with a yards per carry average of 5.2.
Almost all his production came in the second half of the season. The combination of Lamar Jackson taking over as the starting quarterback and Alex Collins heading to IR opened up an opportunity for Edwards, and he made the most of it.
Now, as the Ravens again project to have one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league next season, Edwards is looking to hold atop the depth chart. Kenneth Dixon figures to see his share of carries as well, as he did last year, but given his injury history and Edwards’ effectiveness, he will likely continue to play second fiddle in the backfield.
Other than Dixon, the Ravens crowded backfield from last season is likely no more. Ty Montgomery and Javorius Allen are unrestricted free agents. In all likelihood, the Ravens will choose not to retain either player.
Despite Edwards’ effectiveness last season, there is some concern that he will struggle to replicate similar production this year. While his strength is running downhill and churning out yards north-to-south, Edwards isn’t the most elusive back and offers very little as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Due to this, the Ravens will likely draft another back in the mid-to-late rounds or bring in someone via free agency to add a new element to the running back core. Even so, it will be Edwards who sees the majority of carries on the ground, barring any unforeseen developments prior to the season.
Now the question becomes can Edwards prove to be a long-term fixture in the backfield? Since the Ray Rice debacle, the Ravens have failed to find a franchise running back, instead getting by with surprisingly effective performances from the likes of Justin Forsett, Terrance West, Alex Collins, and most recently, Edwards.
The problem is that these running backs have failed to sustain their success for longer than one season. Take a look below at their performances in breakout seasons and what they did the following year.
2014-15: 1,266 yards, 5.4 YPC, 8 TD
2015-16: 641 yards, 4.2 YPC, 2 TD
2016-17: 774 yards, 4.0 YPC, 5 TD
2017-18: 138 yards, 3.5 YPC, 2 TD
2017-18: 973 yards, 4.6 YPC, 6 TD
2018-19: 411 yards, 3.6 YPC, 7 TD
There’s a pretty clear and identifiable takeaway here: since Ray Rice’s last season, the Ravens backfield has been a revolving door. While it’s impressive that the organization has been able to find success from multiple guys, Baltimore has not had the same leading rusher in consecutive seasons over this span.
After their respective career-best campaigns, Justin Forsett is now retired, Terrance West is out of the league, and Alex Collins was just released. In order for Gus Edwards to keep himself off this list, he will need to prove that his breakout rookie season was not a fluke.
With the Lamar Jackson/Greg Roman era commencing, the running game will be more important than ever for the Ravens. If Gus Edwards isn’t the answer, could they likely find production elsewhere? Sure, but this isn’t what the Ravens should strive for.
In all the years’ of Joe Flacco playing under center, there was very little offensive consistency, both in terms of the influx of playmakers year-after-year and the on-field production. If the Ravens want to have success with Lamar Jackson at the helm, consistency will be vital.
Whether or not Gus Edwards is yet another one-hit wonder at the running back position remains to be seen. However, with a sizable role in the Ravens new-look offensive scheme, “Gus the Bus” has a good chance to establish himself as a long-term fixture in Baltimore.