After second-year running back J.K. Dobbins suffered a knee injury in Saturday’s preseason finale, the Baltimore Ravens and their fans waited with bated breathe for the results of second-year running back J.K. Dobbins’ MRI on Sunday.
Unfortunately, their worst fears were confirmed when multiple reports stated that results revealed that he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and will miss the entire 2021 season.
The 2020 second-round pick was expected to be the featured running back in the Ravens’ offense after showing so much promise as a rookie. In 2020, he finished second on the team in rushing yards with 805, first in rushing touchdowns with nine, and first in yards per carry in the entire NFL among running backs with a 6.0 YPC average.
While losing Dobbins for the year is a tough blow for the Ravens, by no means is the cupboard bare in their backfield and expectations for the running game should still be sky-high.
Why, you might be asking? It is because they have an equally as dynamic and in some ways, an even more proficient player at the running back position that is more than capable of assuming the role Dobbins was destined for this year.
Gus Edwards was already slated to have a heavy workload as the RB2 behind Dobbins on the depth chart in the Ravens’ run-heavy offense. Now he is poised to be the top back in Baltimore for the first time since he started the final six games of his rookie year in 2018.
The former undrafted free agent has been one of the most consistently productive running backs in the league during the first three years of his career and looked like the cream of the crop for the Ravens during the preseason in limited opportunities.
In two exhibition games, he rushed 55 yards on six carries for 9.16 yards per carry, ripped off a pair of runs of over 10 yards, and picked up five first downs. Dobbins struggled to gain some traction at times in the first two preseason games albeit behind an offensive line that consisted of mostly backups.
Edwards has rushed for more than 700 yards and averaged five or more yards per carry every year he’s been in the league. He has also evolved his game each year, becoming a more complete back that showed more elusiveness, receiving ability, and a nose for the end zone last year with career highs in touchdowns (six) and receiving yards (129 on nine catches).
Gus Edwards since 2018:— PFF (@PFF) August 29, 2021
90.2 PFF rushing grade (5th)
5.1 yards per attempt (5th) pic.twitter.com/66oG5vxSS0
He possesses several attributes that should inspire confidence and faith that Dobbins’ absence won’t be as sorely missed as some might think or are already projecting. Edwards almost always produces positive yards every time he touches the ball. His contact balance is incredible, and can still produce against loaded boxes as well as behind blocking units devoid of the majority of its starters.
He signed a two-year extension last month worth $10 million that will keep him under contract through the 2023 season. In the wake of Dobbins’ season-ending injury, extending him prior to a season where he will more earn his keep looks like a brilliant move by General Manager Eric DeCosta in hindsight.
While many are already clamoring for the team to bring in a veteran running back via free agency or trade, the Ravens are in good hands with Edwards and have some unheralded talent behind him. While they had one second-year running back go down in the preseason, another rose to the occasion and shined bright in Ty’Son Williams.
“We have Gus [Edwards] and we’ve got Ty [Ty’son Williams] but hopefully he’s good,” said Head Coach John Harbaugh.
The 2020 undrafted free agent out of BYU balled out in the preseason and had probably already played his way onto the final 53-man roster before Dobbins got hurt. They also have third-year back Justice Hill, who is currently nursing an ankle injury, and undrafted rookie Nate McCary who flashed in the preseason as well.
“Ty’Son has had a great camp. He has done well. So has Nate. Those guys have played well,” said Harbaugh. “The thing about running backs, a lot of running backs do well in the preseason, but those guys have also stepped up in pass protection. They’ve done a good job in the pass game. They’ve really grown. [Running backs coach] Craig [Ver Steeg] has done a really great job with those guys. Yeah, they’ve done well.”
The Ravens running game will still be elite and likely lead the league for a third straight year because they still have the most dynamic dual-threat quarterback in league history in Lamar Jackson. The former league MVP has led the team in rushing in each of the last two seasons, becoming the first quarterback to ever run for 1,000 or more yards more than once.
Earlier this month, Edwards shared that his personal goal for the 2021 season was to rush for 1,000 yards, become more of a factor in the passing game, and improves his stats across the board. While achieving that many rushing yards seemed a little farfetched before Dobbins got injured, he is certainly well-positioned to do so now.