J.K. Dobbins Is a Comeback Player of the Year Pick, But Sports Doctor Is Concerned
Much of the optimism for the Ravens offense returning to form in 2022 revolves around the comeback of running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, who both suffered season-ending ACL tears in the preseason last year.
There is a difference of opinion as to how effective the duo will be.
NFL.com’s Adam Schein is especially bullish on Dobbins, who is his pick to win the Comeback Player of the Year award.
"I love this cat. I thought Baltimore stole him late in Round 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft, and spent much of that offseason gassing him up," Schein wrote. "Then he went out and averaged a robust 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie, only furthering my infatuation.
"Thus, I was crushed for him, the Ravens and football fans in general when he tore his ACL last August in the Ravens' preseason finale. But I think he bounces back with a monster season in 2022. As I've said time and again, the 5-foot-10, 212-pounder was put on Earth to run the rock for the Ravens. Dobbins was a part of Baltimore's hellacious injury toll in 2021. In 2022, he and the rest of the team get back to playing Ravens football."
Dr. David Chao of Sports Injury Central is far less optimistic about how impactful Dobbins will be this season. Chao, the former head physician for the Chargers, predicted Dobbins will begin the regular season on the physically unable to perform list and would be lucky to produce at even half of his pre-injury pace.
"The ACL tear alone will slow a running back in their first season back on the field — see Saquon Barkley's 2021 season — but the LCL involvement heightens the worry," Chao and Zachary Engberg wrote. "Multi-ligament tears complicate the reconstruction and return process and will slow his recovery to an even lighter pace."
Sports Injury Central gave Dobbins a health score of 47. The number measures a player's overall health, from 0 (won't play) to 100 (no current or past significant health issues or risks).
Edwards' SIC health score was a little higher (61), but Chao doesn't expect him to be ready for the start of the regular season either.
"There is a reason that the Ravens signed veteran Mike Davis and used a late-round draft pick on a running back (Tyler Badie)," Chao and Engberg wrote. "They will need to rely on other options as Edwards works his way into form."
Ravens' Offensive Weapons Ranked in Lowest of Seven Tiers
Perhaps in large part to the uncertainty surrounding the health of Dobbins and Edwards, the Ravens were placed in the lowest of seven tiers in The 33rd Team’s rankings of every team's offensive weapons (running backs, wide receivers, tight ends).
The 33rd Team, a pro football think tank composed of former NFL executives and coaches, noted that the common trend among Tier 7 teams "is the lack of a true and proven WR1."
"While a lot of young talent are present in this company, the No. 1 option in the passing game is lacking," The 33rd Team wrote. "These will be the teams that could struggle due to their lack of diverse talent on their offense. They can be one-dimensional at times and can lack consistency."
Joining the Ravens in Tier 7 were the Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Chicago Bears and New York Giants.
It's fair to say the Ravens don't have a proven WR1 — although Rashod Bateman could become one — but I'd argue that the presence of All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews alone should guarantee a higher spot in these rankings.
A revamped offensive line also should benefit the skill position players. Moreover, even when the Ravens offense was ravaged by injuries last season, including Lamar Jackson missing five games, the unit still was sixth in yards and in the middle of the pack (17th) in scoring.
Kyle Hamilton Projected to Finish First in Tackles, Second in Interceptions Among Rookies
ESPN's Mike Clay is the latest pundit to predict that rookie safety Kyle Hamilton will make a significant impact this season.
Clay projected the first-round pick to finish with the most tackles (87) among rookies and the second-most interceptions (two).
"Hamilton is expected to slide in as the box safety for a Ravens' defense that figures to use a lot of three-safety looks this season," Clay wrote. "Though a linebacker generally leads the rookie class in sacks, it wouldn't be too unusual for a safety (Hamilton in this case) to lead the way."
Jaylon Ferguson, Daelin Hayes Have Potential to Bolster Pass Rush
While it's likely that the Ravens will sign a veteran edge rusher before the start of the season, the pass rush could get a boost from two in-house players in Jaylon Ferguson and Daelin Hayes.
With outside linebackers Tyus Bowser (Achilles), Odafe Oweh (shoulder) and David Ojabo (Achilles) all recovering from surgeries, Ferguson and Hayes have an opportunity to make an impact.
Ferguson has been a solid run defender, but he has just 4.5 sacks (none last season) in 38 career games. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, the 6-foot-5 Ferguson showed up at OTAs looking leaner than his listed weight of 270 pounds, which could make him more explosive.
Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed believes Ferguson has the potential to be the Ravens' next late bloomer at outside linebacker.
"Over the last decade, the Ravens have a rich history of drafting and developing edge rushers that breakout late in their rookie deals," Reed wrote. "Then, they go on to break the bank in unrestricted free agency, netting the team a nice compensatory in return the following year. Players like Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee, Za'Darius Smith, and Matthew Judon made the most of their final season(s) in Baltimore and parlayed their breakout campaigns into lucrative deals elsewhere on the open market.
"Expecting Ferguson to explode in his fourth year and record double-digit sacks would be quite a bold prediction given the lack of consistent flashes he has shown. However, if he were to surpass his previous statistical totals and post career-highs in 2022, Ferguson could still earn himself a nice second contract."
Hayes, a 2021 fifth-round pick, is off to a strong start at OTAs. He also was impressive last year in the preseason, but he ended up spending most of his rookie season on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury in Week 3 and then undergoing a knee procedure.
"A healthy again Daelin Hayes looked similar to how he did last summer, when he routinely gave Ravens offensive tackles problems in practice," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
Russell Street Report’s Aidan Griesser wrote: "The former Notre Dame standout is yet another young edge rusher with potential on this defense, and if he hits the ground running after being fully healthy, there's no reason he can't be a big part of [Defensive Coordinator] Mike Macdonald's plans. I think Hayes will surprise people this season."