Eisenberg: Ravens Continue to Zig While Everyone Else Zags

J.K. Dobbins runs as TCU defenders try to tackle him.

Of the 10 players the Ravens selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, one said the most about who they are and where they're going.

With their selection of Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round, they made it clear they're still football iconoclasts who zig offensively while the rest of the league zags.

Other teams saw the high end of the draft as a chance to get better at what mostly occupies their hearts and minds – the passing game. Twenty-seven of the 66 players picked in the first two rounds were either wide receivers or defensive backs. Add the five quarterbacks and seven offensive tackles also selected and 59 percent of the picks were generally passing-centric.

Months after the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl with a fleet of fast receivers, draft experts gave the Denver Broncos high marks for trying to do the same, i.e., build a track team around a young quarterback. Denver drafted three receivers, as did the Las Vegas Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles.

The Ravens certainly have paid heed to stopping the pass, as they easily led the NFL in salary committed to the secondary in 2019. And they took inside linebacker Patrick Queen in the first round last week because he filled a need.

They also wanted to draft more playmakers for quarterback Lamar Jackson and their offense. When they were due to pick at No. 55 overall Friday night, Florida's Van Jefferson and Baylor's Denzel Mims were among the many quality receivers available.

They took a running back.

It wasn't a major need. Their backs, Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, rushed for nearly 2,000 yards in 2019 as part of what the Ravens called their "revolutionary" offense. Originally dismissed by many as an experiment doomed to fail, their run-first attack set the all-time league record for team rushing yards in a season.

Asked about bolstering his running back stable when he had other needs, GM Eric DeCosta explained that the highly-productive Dobbins simply was too talented to pass up in the second round. DeCosta made it sound as if he'd always draft a player of such caliber who drops, regardless of position, and that may be true, but the fact that this player was a running back was telling.

In 2019, Ingram made the Pro Bowl, Edwards averaged 5.3 yards per carry and Hill flashed potential. But Ingram is 30, Edwards was an exclusive-rights free agent this year and Hill projects as a situational contributor.

Rather than risk getting caught shorthanded going forward at their sharpest point of offensive focus, the Ravens eliminated that possibility by picking Dobbins.

As I wrote over the weekend, I don't know how things will work out at running back in the short run other than Ingram remaining the starter. But I do know Dobbins is almost surely the long-term answer. According to Sports Info Solutions, he averaged 6.8 yards per carry, scored 18 touchdowns and totaled 1,755 rushing yards in 2019 out of the shotgun formation, which the Ravens utilize.

In other words, he is the ideal backfield mate for Jackson.

DeCosta eventually did draft those new wide receivers, taking Devin Duvernay in the third round and James Proche in the sixth. That's on top of the first-round and third-round picks the Ravens used on receivers in 2019.

Far from ignoring the passing game, they're trying to assemble a stable of young receivers for Jackson, who recently said he'd prefer to spend his future in the pocket more than on the run.

The goal is more balance. Although the Ravens led the NFL in scoring last season, they did so with their wide receivers ranked last in the league in production. That was problematic when Baltimore fell two touchdowns behind the Tennessee Titans in an eventual playoff loss.

But although they want to pass more, the Ravens will continue to base their offense on the run, firmly countering the prevailing belief in the league that a passing game is the cornerstone of all success.

When they drafted Dobbins Friday night, you could almost hear the Ravens raising their eyebrows and asking, "Oh, is that so?"

Related Content