Examining Ravens position battles: Running back


With the Ravens ramping up their activity level before the start of full training camp practices later this month, we’ll take a look at some key position battles ahead of the 2020 season.
Below is a look at the competition at running back:
How many running backs are too many?
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman insists you can never have enough, especially after Baltimore added second-round pick J.K. Dobbins and his 6.2 yards per carry average as a three-year starter for Ohio State. With the Ravens already coming off an NFL-record 3,296-yard season in 2019, the competition for touches becomes even tougher this season.
It’s a terrific dilemma to have, but challenges may still arise.
“We’ll find ways to make it work, for sure. To have that kind of backfield is a blessing,” Roman said in June. “We definitely want to get into training camp and work through it and kind of evolve as we go. As far as how we are actually going to deploy them, who we are going to emphasis [and] how, I think that’s going to happen on the fly every day in training camp. We’ll get a better feel for that.
“But I love problems like that. I mean that sincerely.”
Mark Ingram is no stranger to being pushed as he was coming off new career highs with 1,043 yards and 5.1 yards per carry in 2016 — numbers very similar to what he accomplished for the Ravens last year — when New Orleans drafted Alvin Kamara in the third round of the 2017 draft. Kamara became an instant star as a rookie, but Ingram still ran for a career-best 1,124 yards to make his second career Pro Bowl that season.
Now 30, Ingram is coming off a Pro Bowl campaign and entering the second season of a three-year contract scheduled to pay him $5 million in 2021. It’s obvious general manager Eric DeCosta drafted Dobbins to be the feature back of the future, but how will that look in 2020 with team expectations so high?
The veteran back has offered nothing but praise for the 21-year-old who ran for over 2,000 yards with the Buckeyes last year, noting how Dobbins made the effort to reach out to him first after being drafted. The rookie describes Ingram to be “like an older brother” who’s replied to every text and answered every question he might have.
The Ravens ran a franchise-record 596 times last season — Oakland owns the league record with 681 in 1977 — but MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson remains the predominant force in the record-setting rushing attack, making it easier said on paper than in reality to want to diminish his 176-carry workload that averaged an NFL-best 6.9 yards per attempt. There’s also the topic of Jackson’s continued growth as a passer, making it tricky to assume Baltimore will even match last year’s rushing attempt total, let alone surpass it to more easily accommodate the gifted Dobbins.
Even if Dobbins serves in the primary backup role as many expect to begin the season, where does that leave Gus Edwards, who’s averaged 5.3 yards per carry in his young career and will be a restricted free agent after 2020? Edwards has emerged as one of the league’s best short-yardage backs, picking up first downs on 46 of his 133 rushing attempts last season.
Does 2019 fourth-round pick Justice Hill see more than the modest 66 offensive touches he received as a rookie or remain more of an afterthought and special-teams contributor?
The onus will be on Roman to try to get ball carriers into the flow of the game before identifying and embracing the hot hand. Every member of the crowded backfield has expressed a team-first mentality and figures to remain professional, but both Ingram and Edwards have business-related reasons to be concerned if their workloads diminish. If Dobbins proves to be the real deal, it’s difficult to see how at least one of those two incumbents wouldn’t be impacted substantially.
Again, it’s a great problem for the Ravens, who should have no issue remaining the most dynamic and productive rushing attack in the NFL.
“The coaches will decide how to rotate us and how to play us all,” Ingram said. “We all have special talents [and] special abilities, and all I do is work my butt off. I compete my butt off no matter where I’m at, no matter who is in my running back room. That’s just the bottom line.”