Eisenberg: There's No Sugarcoating the Impact of J.K. Dobbins' Injury, But …

RB J.K. Dobbins

I won't even begin to try to sugarcoat the impact of the knee injury J.K. Dobbins suffered in the Ravens' preseason finale Saturday night in Washington.

The Ravens are the NFL's No. 1 rushing team. Dobbins is their No. 1 running back.

Now, instead of helping the Ravens do what they do best offensively – what helps give them the best chance to win every week – he'll sit out the 2021 season.

It's a big loss. Huge.

The playoff picture in the AFC is loaded with for-real contenders. To keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs and whoever else rises to the top, the Ravens have sought to add as many game-changing playmakers as possible. That's how you win in today's NFL.

Dobbins was among their most important additions in this respect, and thus, a significant subtraction.

When the Ravens drafted him in 2020, some analysts wondered why; Baltimore was already loaded at his position with starter Mark Ingram II coming off a Pro Bowl season and backup Gus Edwards nothing short of a battering ram in purple.

But once Dobbins began to play regularly, it was clear why the Ravens grabbed him with a second-round pick.

He has all the physical tools a top running back needs – speed, vision, strength, balance, acceleration. He also has a strong work ethic and a palpable desire to rank among the game's best.

The Ravens were counting on him catching more passes this season while shouldering a starter's load of carries. He was set to accrue more than 250 touches and generate a ton of yards and points.

Other than quarterback Lamar Jackson, no one was going to touch the ball more in Baltimore. And there was a reason for that.

His subtraction leaves a sizable hole in the offensive blueprint. But the Ravens' coaches and players aren't just going to throw up their hands, weep and start planning for 2022.

To the contrary, the Ravens still have enough pieces that I think they can carry on quite nicely without Dobbins.

It would be hard to find a more suitable replacement starter than Edwards, a consistent producer with experience being the No. 1. (He held the job in 2018.) He isn't as fast or elusive as Dobbins, but few NFL backs are more powerful. If the Ravens give him the carries earmarked for Dobbins, he's liable to surpass 1,000 yards on the ground in 2021.

The anticipated backup crew of Justice Hill and Ty'Son Williams also has high upside potential – enough that the Ravens don't need to sign a veteran fill-in, as some have suggested they might. I don't anticipate it.

Hill missed the preseason with an ankle injury, which put him out of sight and mind, but he has speed, good hands and experience. It would be interesting to see what he does with an expanded role.

As for Williams, he benefitted greatly from spending 2020 on the Ravens' practice squad after going undrafted that spring; a strong, slashing runner, he received an extended look in the preseason and appears ready to launch.

And remember, the key to the Ravens' ground game is the fact that Jackson, though just 24, is already acknowledged as the best running quarterback in NFL history – such a threat that he opens holes for others. That calculus isn't going to change.

We'll see how the reconfigured offensive line performs, but having tackle Ronnie Stanley back is a huge boost. If the group is going to struggle, it'll likely come while pass protecting rather than run blocking.

Bottom line, I wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens still lead the NFL in rushing this season.

It'll be harder to do without Dobbins, whose ability to turn routine plays into "chunk" gains will be hard to replace.

But, to be clear, Dobbins, more than the team he plays for, is the biggest loser in this situation. Now he'll spend one of his prime seasons rehabbing rather than playing, and while there's every reason to believe he'll come back strong, it isn't the story of 2021 that anyone expected or wanted for him.

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