If you are anything like me, it is never too early to start thinking about fantasy football; the next season begins as soon as the current one comes to an end. I immediately begin questioning past lineup decisions and lamenting boneheaded trades. Maybe it’s just a “me” problem…
If you are a fellow fantasy diehard, then you know it is time to start looking at rankings, projections, and depth charts. You start to follow training camp injuries like an investigative reporter. You make a mental note about the young quarterback who threw five interceptions in a practice session, or the wide receiver making one-handed catches against nobody. You are all in. So now is the perfect time to start identifying where you want to draft former Buckeyes.
The homer in us wants to pick all of the ex-Buckeyes in fantasy. It is the nature of our fandom, and it makes the game more enjoyable. The good news is, outside of the QB position, former OSU players have been making a big impact on the field — and in the fantasy league your co-workers and/or significant others are sick of hearing about. This season will be no different, as there are plenty of former Buckeyes primed for a big season.
J.K. Dobbins | RB, Baltimore Ravens
As a rookie in 2020, Dobbins began the season in a timeshare. He also ended the season in a timeshare, although the Baltimore Ravens increased his playing time and expanded his role as the year went along. For most teams, the bell cow running back is a thing of the past. Timeshares are the norm, intended to help preserve the long-term health and durability of players at the position. A player like Derrick Henry is an outlier. He is a relic from a previous era, and physically gifted and dominant enough to withstand more punishment than most. There is also less emphasis put on the running back position via the draft, so teams do not feel compelled to draft an RB early and feature the highly paid player in the offense.
Dobbins was selected 55th overall by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2020 NFL Draft, just sneaking into the second round. He was surprisingly the fifth running back off the board, but to the surprise of zero Ohio State fans, became more productive than most taken before him. Only Jonathan Taylor, former Wisconsin foe and current Indianapolis Colt, put up better numbers than J.K. He also started 13 games, compared to Dobbins’ one. That statement is not meant to diminish what Taylor did; he is a top-tier back — but so is Dobbins. If given the opportunity, J.K. Dobbins is capable of becoming a top-5 or 10 running back in the NFL, as well as for your fantasy football team.
Professional coaches have forgotten more football than I will ever know. However, it was evident to fans that Mark Ingram was receiving far too many touches for the Ravens last year. The staff was not ready to rush Dobbins into a featured role, and instead relied on the now standard RBBC (running back by committee) approach. Once it became clear that Dobbins was ready, he became much more involved in the game plan.
In weeks 1-5, he failed to record double digit touches in any game. The rest of the way, he averaged around 12 per. Even then, Ingram remained involved until very late in the season/postseason. He is now gone, leaving Dobbins to compete for touches with Gus Edwards. Edwards is a solid running back in his own right, and just received a contract extension. However, he does not possess the same big play ability as Dobbins. He is a perfect complementary or 1b back. Dobbins’ 2020 stats and his clear passing of the eye test should lead to a prominently featured role in Baltimore.
In that 2020 season, Dobbins averaged 6.0 yards per carry, making him only the fifth qualified running back to do so since 2010. He also ranked inside the top-10 in yards after contact per carry, percentage of carries to result in a first down or touchdown, and PFF rush grade. He ran for a TD once every 15 times he toted the rock. The math is pretty easy on that one: if Dobbins receives 15 carries per game, he has at least proven capable of putting it in the end zone every week. Only the aforementioned Henry, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara averaged at least one touchdown per regular season game played last year (at the RB position).
However, stats only tell part of the story with Dobbins. He has shown time and time again on film that he is an exciting and elusive playmaker. As Buckeye fans, we were already well aware. We were likely expecting him to be an early draft pick after accounting for over 2,200 scrimmage yards and 23 combined touchdowns during his last season in Columbus.
And his game-breaking ability translated to the NFL level fairly quickly. Dobbins rushed for over 100 yards against Pittsburgh and capped off the season with 160 against Cincinnati, highlighted by a 72-yard touchdown run.
It is no coincidence that the Ravens went 5-0 over their last five games — games in which Dobbins was finally given the keys to the car. As the lead back, he scored in each of those contests, and the team averaged 37 points per game. But, Dobbins struggled some in the postseason (not all of his own doing), and the Ravens looked average, at best, in those games.
When he was successful, the team was successful. There is a clear correlation between J.K. being given opportunities and his team being at its most explosive.
On a points-per-game basis, Dobbins’ fantasy value was less than that of his value on the field in 2020. Depending on league rules, he finished somewhere around 25th among running backs. Like many others, I expect that to change this upcoming season. Dobbins did a lot with a little, and proved to be a tremendous weapon in the ground game. Both he and Gus Edwards have been average receivers thus far, but the Ravens do not send a lot their way.
The team has re-tooled the receiver position, and have a star tight end. Baltimore will continue to focus on the run, and with less competition for carries, there is a clear path to increased production for the former Buckeye. Additionally, if the team is looking long-term, they will likely start to run Lamar Jackson less. The quarterback is a threat, but more of his carries should be given to the team’s second-year stud. Do not be surprised if J.K. Dobbins finishes the 2021 season as a certified RB1. Draft him early if you want to get ahead of fellow OSU fans and knowledgeable fantasy football players.
Will J.K. Dobbins finish 2021 as a top-10 fantasy running back?
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