Usually when a running back leads all players at his position in yards per carry, ranks among the top in the league in explosive runs, and has a strong finish to their rookie season, they are projected to be a prime breakout candidate heading into their sophomore season.
However, in the eyes of Pro Football Focus’ Zach Tantillo, Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins doesn’t fit the criteria well enough to rank among the top second-year breakout candidates.
While Dobbins was the first player on the honorable mentions list, just like with his quarterback Lamar Jackson who just missed the cut for PFF’s top 50 players heading into 2021 list, its another egregious mistake for either player not to rank near the top of lists that they were subbed from.
Honorable mentions:— PFF (@PFF) June 28, 2021
RB J.K. Dobbins
WR Brandon Aiyuk
WR Michael Pittman Jr
CB Jaylon Johnson
S Xavier McKinneyhttps://t.co/3w5TeZNZwm
PFF hasn’t been very high on the Ravens, their players, or many of their moves this offseason outside of drafting Rashod Bateman in the first round. They have been especially disrespectful to Dobbins and his projections heading into year two.
Last month Tantillo’s PFF colleague, Sam Monson, made a list of the 32 best running backs in the league heading into the 2021 season and ranked Dobbins at No. 26 even though he ended his rookie year on a high note and will be the Ravens’ lead back going forward.
Dobbins got sporadic carries and touches during the first half of his rookie year but he seized the starting role down the stretch and didn’t look back or let up. He finished the regular season with 805 rushing yards in 15 games and scored at least one rushing touchdown in seven straight games including the playoffs.
This latest slight will only add more fuel to the motivation fire already raging inside of the 2020 second-round pick out of Ohio State who says he carries an enormous chip on his shoulder.
“That chip on my shoulder is pretty big,” Dobbins said during minicamp. “Little fuel like PFF ranking me 26th. I don’t think I’m 26th. But I love that. That gives me room to improve. I’ve got people to prove wrong.”
As far as the second-year players that did make Tantillo’s list over Dobbins, solid arguments can be made for Burrow, Higgins, Lamb, and Jeudy over him but after that, it’s highly debatable. The two players at his position that made it over him, in particular, can be argued against in favor of Dobbins.
While Akers also had a strong finish to the season like Dobbins once he finally got healthy, the Ravens’ rookie still outgained him on the ground by nearly 200 yards and appeared in two more games. He was more durable and consistently productive as a rookie between the two and that bodes well for his odds to do more of the same in year two and then some now that he’s the starter.
A tougher argument can be made for Gibson’s candidacy over Dobbins since he recorded more yards and touchdowns from scrimmage with 1,042 on 206 touches and 11 scores, all of which came on the ground. The former Memphis Tiger is the more natural pass catcher of the two and proved as much as a rookie but Dobbins worked hard on improving that area of his game this offseason and looked to have made significant strides during minicamp and OTAs.
While I have no doubt that both Akers and Gibson will have successful sophomore seasons, Dobbins will be playing in a more run-centric offense and running behind a better offensive line than either of them. The Ravens revamped their depth chart at both guard and tackle this offseason with some reshuffling, via the draft and a handful of key veteran acquisitions at a great value.
Nevertheless, Dobbins is poised for a big breakout season in year two where he could easily eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the expanded 17-game regular season and possibly even make his first career Pro Bowl. More importantly than any of those individual accolades, if he does indeed break out in 2021, it will likely mean that Ravens as a team will have a great season since he’s integral to their success on offense.