With all fan passes for both training camp and the July 31 stadium practice claimed in under 24 hours last week, there’s no shortage of excitement as the Ravens ramp up preparations for the 2021 season later this month.
But with that enthusiasm comes great expectations for a franchise that’s won 25 regular-season games over the last two years. The Ravens will not only be aiming to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, but a deeper January run is in order after back-to-back exits in the divisional round. In the eyes of many, it will be Super Bowl or bust as a talented roster becomes more and more expensive.
Ahead of the start of training camp next week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2021 Ravens every day:
Projected depth chart entering training camp: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Ty’Son Williams, Nate McCrary
Why to be impressed: There’s no denying the generational athleticism of star quarterback Lamar Jackson that makes every aspect of a historic running game that’s eclipsed 3,000 yards in two straight seasons that much better, but Dobbins led all NFL running backs in yards per carry (6.0) as a rookie while Edwards eclipsed 5.0 yards per carry for the third straight season, giving Baltimore one of the better young duos in the league. According to Sports Info Solutions, Dobbins averaged a whopping 8.3 yards per carry on runs to the outside, which coincides with the in-season transformation that made the Ravens’ running game so special down the stretch. According to Pro Football Focus, Edwards ranked ninth in the NFL in yards after contact per carry and first in percent of carries resulting in a first down last season, reflecting his value in short-yardage situations. The pair finished tied for fourth in the NFL in runs of 20 or more yards with eight apiece despite Edwards ranking just 29th and Dobbins 35th in rushing attempts, illustrating the dangerous big-play ability of this ground attack.
Why to be concerned: The running game went from good to special when offensive coordinator Greg Roman placed a greater focus on outside runs and phased out Mark Ingram, but the former Pro Bowl running back’s departure does leave the run-heavy Ravens thinner at the tailback position with Hill having a total of just 83 touches over his first two NFL seasons. Edwards showed some growth as a receiver in his third season, but Jackson passing to backs out of the backfield has been very rare and Dobbins had some issues catching the football as a rookie. The Ravens also need more consistency when it comes to pass protection and blitz pickup, an area in which Ingram was strong.
Big question: Will anyone else push for opportunities behind Dobbins and Edwards in the backfield?
Roman loves using multiple running backs, but it was tough to ignore the way the rushing attack really took off when Dobbins and Edwards began taking nearly all of the non-Jackson carries and Ingram all but disappeared. Hill is a regular special-teams contributor, but he registered just 17 touches in 2020 and is entering his pivotal third season as a former fourth-round pick. Williams and McCrary would really need to impress during the preseason to put themselves in the 53-man roster discussion and are more likely candidates for the practice squad. Three Ravens players have rushed for at least 700 yards apiece in each of the last two seasons, a streak that seems likely to continue as long as everyone stays healthy.
Prediction: Beginning the 2021 season as the lead back, Dobbins will become the eighth different player to record a 1,000-yard season for the Ravens, a feat that will be helped by the introduction of a 17th game on the schedule.