The Ravens have engineered a major re-wiring of their skill-position depth chart as part of their mission to put a charge back in their offense in 2018.
They’ve completely overhauled their wide receiver corps. They’ve drafted a pair of pass-catching tight ends. Heck, they’ve even drafted a new quarterback with unique talents.
We’ll see how it all plays out, but after enduring a season in which their team ranked No. 27 in the NFL in total yards, Baltimore fans surely agree with the front office’s assessment that a new complement of playmakers was needed.
The outlier, the only skill position the Ravens haven’t addressed, is running back. I don’t know how fans feel about that omission, but I think it’s fine.
Between Alex Collins, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon, the Ravens already have enough backs who can make plays and put a charge in the offense.
Collins is the clear-cut starter after emerging as the most surprising and best thing to happen to the Ravens in 2017. A team doesn’t make a waiver-wire claim in September thinking that player will rank among the league’s top rushers by December, but Collins did just that, finishing with 973 yards on the ground.
His unforgettable, reverse-field touchdown run against the Cincinnati Bengals in the season finale was not only the most electric moment of the season for the Ravens, but it also offered the front office a template for what kind of playmakers to look for, i.e., explosive guys who can make something out of nothing. The good news, this one is already on the roster.
You would think the coaches will give Collins even more of an opportunity this season, as he surpassed 20 touches in just three games in 2017 and that’s low for a “franchise” back.
But he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, a sky-high figure that suggests he was used just right, especially since there are questions about how much load he should take on given his size and history of migraines.
In any case, one of the main reasons the Ravens don’t plan to to overwork Collins is they want their other backs to have carries, too, and not just gratuitous carries. It’s a testament to their depth at the position.
Allen has earned the opportunity. After struggling to get on the field the year before, he found his niche as a physical, inside runner last season, and emerged as one of the most improved Ravens at any position. Although he only averaged 3.9 yards per carry, a significant falloff from Collins, there were times when his style worked better, and he ended 2017 with 591 rushing yards, a substantial total.
How Dixon’s return impacts things remains to be seen. His pro career hasn’t gotten untracked due to injuries and suspensions, but he’s still young and has displayed playmaking potential when healthy and on the field. I’d be surprised if the Ravens just bury him.
The coaches have shown a willingness to give the brunt of the load to whoever is gaining the most yards in a given game. Why wouldn’t Dixon be privy to the same opportunity?
Before the draft, various team officials indicated they wouldn’t mind adding yet another back to their mix, especially one with different skills. I took that as code for a fast guy who could catch the ball.
I’m sure they meant it, and I mean, who wouldn’t want a fast running back with pass-catching skills? But given the talent already on hand at the position, it would be a luxury, and the Ravens had a handful of more pressing needs. I thought it was fine that they used third-day draft picks to add depth to the secondary and offensive line, rather than at running back.
As the 2018 Ravens begin to come into view with OTA practices and a mandatory minicamp over the next month, there are plenty of issues for the front office to be concerned about, but the running back position isn’t one of them. That’s the one corner of the offensive depth chart where the status quo was just fine.