Taking a look back at the Ravens needs going into the 2020 NFL Draft, running back was probably at the very bottom of that list, next to quarterback and kicker. Baltimore had just run for the NFL team rushing record in 2019. Plus their depth chart was loaded, with Mark Ingram, who was fresh off a 15 touchdown Pro-Bowl season. Gus Edwards, who can wake up, roll out of bed and gain almost 6 yards. And 4th-round pick rookie Justice Hill showed some big-play potential vs the Browns and Steelers late in the season. Despite all those pieces in the backfield, Eric DeCosta still selected running back J.K. Dobbins with the 55th pick in last year’s draft.
At the time of the Dobbins pick, the Ravens had an additional 2nd rounder in their pocket. I personally was on board with it and thought a “luxury” pick was on the table because they had that other pick. Plus, the 2nd all-time leading rusher in Ohio State history had no business still being there when the Ravens were on the clock. For what it’s worth, safety Jeremy Chinn would have been another fine luxury pick. (Chinn was a “My Guy” for me last year.)
However, DeCosta ended up trading that extra 2nd rounder (the 60th pick) and out the round all together. A possible target could have been wide receiver Denzel Mims, who the Jets nabbed the pick before. This probably made most Ravens fans (including myself) a little annoyed as the team just missed out on a good prospect at a position of need. Baltimore used what ended up being their only 2nd round pick on a very talented player no doubt, but also on a position where the Ravens did not lack starting level guys.
But just like the menu at Dunkin’ Donuts, DeCosta of course knows the scope of the Ravens roster like the back of his hand. The foresight of simply taking the best player available in J.K. Dobbins last year proved to not only be the correct pick, but one of the biggest steals of the draft. Mark Ingram completely fell off the RB-over-30-cliff in 2020 and Dobbins produced an insanely efficient rookie season as a part-time player. His role in the Ravens offense was just scratching the surface.
No matter how much skill Lamar Jackson possesses, and contrary to what the Twitter trolls have to say, Jackson is the Ravens quarterback. So he doesn’t technically doesn’t qualify for the skill positions. So taking Jackson out of the equation, J.K. Dobbins is the best offensive skill player the Ravens have had since the last great #27 on their roster, Ray Rice. Even with all of his talent, and a really strong rookie season, the sophomore running back is seemingly flying under the radar going into 2021. (Don’t even get me started on PFF’s ranking of Dobbins as the 26th-best RB in NFL).
Lamar Jackson improving as a passer, rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman (thank you again EDC), and Marquise Brown’s new jersey number are the main talking points on the Ravens currently, and all rightfully so. However, don’t let this distract you from what J.K. Dobbins did as a rookie and what his role in Baltimore is going forward.
J.K. Dobbins is now the “heartbeat” of this offense. While Lamar is obviously the brains of the operation, the main attraction, and the straw that stirs the whole drink for the Ravens. Dobbins is now second-in-command after Lamar for this offense. He will be the constant pumping, explosive force that will take this historic rushing attack to another level in 2021 and for years to come.
I’ve always loved this moment between J.K. Dobbins and Harbaugh, this is top tier coaching pic.twitter.com/9e4tUxKPa1— Ramey (@HoodieRamey) May 21, 2021
Shout-out to one of the leaders of Ravens Twitter, Ramey for bringing back up this awesome clip of Dobbins and Coach Harbaugh last year. On the last play of the 1st quarter in this Week 15 game against the Jaguars, Dobbins fumbled but luckily recovered his potential mistake. Just two plays later at the goal-line, Greg Roman dialed up a nice jet-sweep motion play for Dobbins as he glided into the end-zone for the score.
This embrace between Coach and Dobbins right after that touchdown really emphasizes how the Ravens view their running back and what kind of player and person Dobbins is. Harbaugh could have easily held the young back on the sideline after the almost fumble and let Lamar or Gus hammer in the touchdown. But no, the Ravens called Dobbins’ number right after, knowing they can trust him and that “big ticker” of his.
A quick review and a projection for J.K. Dobbins in 2021
Much like Jackson, Dobbins is breath-taking when he has the ball in his hands. I found myself on the edge of my seat almost every time J.K. turned the corner on a carry last season. Dobbins’ explosiveness is just a joy to watch. He has an almost perfect blend of speed, quickness, strength, and contact-balance that pairs beautifully with this Ravens rushing scheme. On read-option plays with Jackson, Dobbins can attack and put pressure on the defense from every rushing lane. This puts defenders in such a tough spot trying to pick which insanely quick ball-carrier to choose to crash on.
For the 2021 season, it’s difficult to find a scenario where Dobbins is not the leading ball-carrier and rusher on the team. There is no doubt that Lamar and the passing game will evolve with his new weapons. He and Gus Edwards will also get their fair share of carries, while Justice Hill is sprinkled in there. However, gone are 78 opportunities from Mark Ingram last year, a majority of those should go to Dobbins.
He had 152 total touches (134 rush / 18 rec) as a rookie who played very sparingly in the first-half of the year. In 2021, Dobbins should push for 200+ touches (180+ rush / 20+ rec) and with his elite yards per touch efficiency (6.1 YPT), 1,300 total yards and 10 scores is definitely in the cards. Get pumped up Ravens flock, that big heart #27 has is ready to roll and become the driving force on offense for the Ravens this season.