Every team in the NFL lives or at least claims to live by the ‘next man up’ code but they don’t always stand by and stick with it when disaster strikes and they lose a key piece
The Baltimore Ravens are unfortunately facing this reality following the season-ending torn Achilles suffered by fourth-year running back J.K. Dobbins in their Week 1 win over the Houston Texans.
In the immediate aftermath pundits already began dubbing the Ravens as an ideal candidate to make a trade for disgruntled Indianapolis Colts All-Pro Jonathan Taylor or sign veteran free agent Pro Bowler Kareem Hunt.
“The Ravens are at least the type of forward-thinking team that might say ‘you know what, this actually does make sense even though we’ll probably have to pay (Taylor)’,” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said. “They are a good team. It’s going to take a really good team to pull off this move.”
As much as fantasy football owners and the national media would love to see the Ravens make a big move to find a replacement for Dobbins at the top of their depth chart, the team still already has talented ball carriers available on the roster. Justice Hill, Gus Edwards and Melvin Gordon are more than capable of not just holding down the fort, but thriving, and Harbaugh believes as much.
"I like the guys we have. Melvin Gordon is here for a reason."— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 11, 2023
Coach Harbaugh on the RB group: pic.twitter.com/NoB8UC2d0A
Gordon is currently on the practice squad but will promoted to the active roster once Dobbins is placed on injured reserve. The former two-time Pro Bowler is in his ninth year in the league and is by far their most decorated and experienced player at the position and they are grateful that he chose to stay with the team despite reportedly receiving interest from other teams after he didn’t make the initial 53-man roster.
“He’s here for a reason, and [we] certainly didn’t expect it to be this quick, but that’s why he’s here,” Harbaugh said. “That’s why he wanted to stay here because he likes it here. He likes the offense, and he likes the environment, and he’s heck of a talented guy. You saw him in the preseason. He’s a proven [running] back. So, I’m very, very glad that he’s here.”
The player that stepped up the most immediately after Dobbins left Sunday’s game was Hill who matched his career touchdown total prior to this season in the third quarter alone on back-to-back drives.
Hill has seemingly been buried on the depth chart behind more established players at the position since joining the team from Mark Ingram and Edwards as a rookie in 2019 to Dobbins and Edwards last season after all three of them missed the 2021 season with major injuries.
Despite playing primarily on special teams for the bulk of his career to this point, Hill was able to set career highs in both rushing yards (262) and yards per carry (5.3) in 2022. The 25-year-old is coming off such a strong training camp and preseason that the team has ‘tremendous confidence” in him to be able to produce in an expanded role.
“The way he’s played speaks for itself,” Harbaugh said. “You guys have seen him play. The fans have all seen him play now through the years, but also in the preseason and yesterday. So, I don’t think it needs any explanation. I have tremendous confidence in Justice Hill. He’s a very good running back. He’s a very good all-around player, and it’s going to be a great opportunity for him.”
A potential secret weapon in the waiting is undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell who was one of the brightest stars of the preseason and possesses blazing game-breaking speed. He is currently on injured reserve and isn’t eligible to return until at least Week 5 but once he is back in the fold, expect to see the Ravens utilize his explosively dynamic skill set.
During his tenure as the Ravens General Manager, Eric DeCosta has shown that he is not afraid to aggressively address a glaring position of need in-season at or before the trade deadline. If the team suffers any further injuries at running back or isn’t satisfied with the production they get from the players currently on the roster between now and the deadline, he likely won’t hesitate to bring in reinforcements.
However, the more likely avenue that they’d come from would be free agency or poaching an inexpensive player from another team’s practice squad not a big swing to acquire a player such as Taylor or Hunt.