The Baltimore Ravens love to run the football. J.K. Dobbins is their most talented running back. These two statements are fact. So why is the former Buckeye not higher on fantasy draft boards?
Because the Baltimore Ravens love to run the football, and they believe Lamar Jackson is their most talented runner. Even coming back from a torn ACL, Dobbins would be drafted much higher and likely thrive (in real life) if he were in a different situation. As is, fans and fantasy football players should temper their expectations.
As a rookie in 2020, Dobbins was an explosive touchdown machine when opportunity presented itself. In the eight games during which he received 11 or more carries, he found paydirt seven times. He also added two 2PT conversions in a somewhat limited sample size. Once the Ravens reached the postseason, the handcuffs were placed back on Dobbins, as he accumulated just 19 carries in their two playoff games combined. He did, however, add two more TDs (one through the air).
Dobbins produced 11 total TD on 175 touches, scoring at a higher clip than Jonathan Taylor and/or Derrick Henry did in 2021. Sample size, regression factor, blah blah blah... I get it. The Baltimore RB is not likely to keep up his same scoring pace, but evidence of elite production exists. And keep in mind: despite appearing in 15 regular season games, Dobbins scored these TD primarily as a backup! Starts may have been ceremonial in Baltimore, but he was only credited with one, according to PFF. He played on 46 percent of the total offensive snaps, suggesting there is an even higher ceiling.
Beyond putting points on the board, Dobbins was highly efficient with his carries. As a matter of a fact, he was the most efficient RB in the league (2020), if you use yards per carry as a barometer. Quarterbacks (Lamar) Jackson and Kyler Murray both finished with higher averages, but the Baltimore rookie led his position with 6.0 YPC. Only five other RBs averaged more than 5.0, but it is worth noting that Dobbins’ teammate Gus Edwards came in at that exact number.
The averages of Jackson, Dobbins, and Edwards suggest that Baltimore – in addition to talented runners – has a great scheme and nasty blockers up front, which is true. Regardless, since his time at Ohio State, Dobbins has shown a natural ability to dice up opposing defenses and put the ball in the endzone.
So why wouldn’t you want to draft him? I’m not saying that. I am saying quite the opposite, which is: definitely draft J.K. Dobbins! But take a cautious approach if and when doing so.
For starters, there is the injury. Yes, Dobbins suffered his torn ACL during the 2021 preseason, which means he should have more than enough time to recover. But each injury is different, and the Ravens will presumably want to ease him back into action. You might want to draft him for the long haul, anticipating timeshare duties early in the season and workhorse usage late. And you could be right, but you never know what they’re going to do in Baltimore.
Part of the reason I find the Ravens to be unpredictable is because they have a unicorn athlete at QB. Jackson is arguably a better runner than he is a thrower of the football, and the team often uses him as if that were the case. He is not only their QB, he should also be considered RB1. And because he is sometimes hit-and-miss as a passer, Baltimore utilizes a different offensive gameplan than most.
Tight end Mark Andrews is the team’s top pass catcher. Their “traditional” wide receivers are typically downfield threats, and rarely see double-digit targets in a single game. That leaves the backs, Dobbins included. Jackson is so dynamic with the ball in his hands that a QB scramble is viewed as a better option than a RB checkdown, rendering the backfield predominantly useless in the Ravens’ passing game.
Referencing 2020 as an example – when Jackson was fully healthy – it is easy to see why the backs in Baltimore have much lower value in PPR leagues. During that season, players at the RB position combined for 38 receptions... 38! Between their top four RB. Dobbins actually led the crew with 18, but a lack of usage in the passing game should be very concerning to fantasy owners.
The third-year back is expected to be ready for training camp, and the team hopes he will be full-go (or close to) for the beginning of the regular season. But monitor his situation. As long as Dobbins continues to trend towards Week 1, fantasy drafters should be ready to pounce. He is currently ranked somewhere in the neighborhood of RB20, making him a high-end RB2 for your team, or your top back if you choose to prioritize pass catchers. I am one of those people, so I would not be totally upset with Dobbins as my RB1. However, it would then be important to have plenty of depth at the position, as well as a few receiving specialists to counterbalance his lack of inclusion in the Ravens’ passing game.
This former Buckeye has star potential written all over him, but do not expect a bell cow back in 2022. Fantasy players and OSU fans should be hopeful that he remains healthy, and eventually becomes the primary focus of Baltimore’s run-heavy offense.