The improvement of the Baltimore Ravens offense and particularly their passing attack has been one of the most talked-about topics among fans and media pundits all offseason. Part of the expansion of the offensive profile will include utilizing the running backs more as pass catchers out of the backfield according to Head Coach John Harbaugh.
“One of the main points of emphasis has been to involve our running backs in the passing game more,” Harbaugh said. “J.K, obviously, is going to be a focal point in that, Justice [Hill], and Gus [Edwards] does what he does in the passing game.”
Last season the Ravens running backs only accounted for 6.76 percent of the team’s total receptions and just 7.84 percent of the total targets. Those numbers dropped from the year before when the position group accounted for 7.04 percent of the total receptions and 8.31 of the total targets.
In 2019 Mark Ingram recorded 247 receiving yards which are just 22 yards shy of the total production of the three aforementioned players in 2020 and his five receiving touchdowns were more than their total last year which was zero in case you were wondering.
Dobbins is expected to be the lead back heading into his second season after an impressive rookie campaign where he dazzled as a runner. However, he left much to be desired as a pass-catcher with just 18 receptions and 120 yards on 24 targets and had some pretty bad drops in crucial moments late in games.
The 2020 second-round pick appears to have made significant strides this offseason to improve that area of his game according to reports. On the final day of OTAs, Dobbins made an impressive catch in the end zone where he showed off both his hands and his vertically leaping ability when he elevated to catch a pass over the head of second-year inside linebacker Malik Harrison.
“J.K. and Justice [Hill], specifically, that’s what they should be really good at. That should be a big part of their tool kits,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something we want to emphasize and continue to improve at.”
Running routes is far from Dobbins’ forte and he wasn’t asked to do a lot of pass-catching in college at Ohio State where he only recorded 71 catches for 645 yards and five touchdowns in three years as a Buckeye. Nevertheless, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman believes he’ll grow from the experience he gained as a rookie and is confident in his ability to contribute as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
“We’d love to really have a threat out of the backfield,” Roman said last week. “J.K. is a very talented athlete. He didn’t do much route running in high school or college, really. He was just toting the rock, getting handoffs. I really think last year was a great experience for him. He got thrown into the fire as a rookie. I think he has the skillset and the talent to really include him as a viable weapon in the passing game.”
While Dobbins struggled at times as a pass-catcher last season, Edwards displayed more ability and promise in that department as he continued to show that he is more than a north-south thumper.
He led the Ravens’ running backs in receiving yards with 129 despite having half as many catches as Dobbins with nine and almost half as many targets with just 13. Edwards is looking forward to seeing more opportunities as a receiver out of the backfield.
“I want to be a part of the passing game more,” Edwards said. “I think every year I’ve been sneaking my way into that. This year, hopefully, I could be more of a part of it and just keep getting better in that aspect.”
The recently extended former undrafted free agent believes the Ravens running back trio has the potential to make the offense more explosive in all facets.
“I think we’re dangerous,” said Edwards. “You get us going, we build off of each other, we like to see each other go out there and make plays. When J.K. [Dobbins] makes a big play, it motivates me, it motivates Justice [Hill] – and we’re just going to keep building off of each other.”
The forgotten man in the Ravens running back rotation has been Hill. In his first two seasons in the league he too has flashed potential as a pass-catcher in his limited opportunities. He was targeted just five times last season and caught all five for 20 yards and meager four yards per catch average.
However, as a rookie in 2019, he caught eight passes for 70 yards on 15 targets and averaged 8.8 yards per reception. Hill has the speed and requisite skill set to be a factor in the passing game as well if given the opportunity.
Some of the best, most balanced, and dynamic offenses in the league find as many ways as possible to get the ball to their players in space. Running backs are often among the more elusive of the skill position players on most teams and utilizing them more in the passing game will help the Ravens both expand and diversify their passing attack going forward.