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Late for Work 6/6: Pundits Debate J.K. Dobbins' Future With Ravens

RB J.K. Dobbins

What Is J.K. Dobbins' Future With the Ravens?

J.K. Dobbins made headlines last week with a tweet that really wasn't all that cryptic.

The running back first expressed his love for Ravens fans and said he hopes to play in Baltimore for his entire career.

"It's not hard to read between the lines. If Dobbins wants to be a Raven for life as he wrote, then he wants a contract extension," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "The 2020 second-round pick is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and given the challenges running backs face on the open market and Dobbins' injury history, it makes perfect sense why he'd want a new deal as soon as possible."

Dobbins' impact when healthy is undeniable. After a promising rookie season in 2020 (805 rushing yards, nine touchdowns, 6 yards per carry), Dobbins missed the entire 2021 season due to multiple torn ligaments in his knee in the preseason.

Dobbins underwent a second surgery on his knee during the 2022 season. He returned for the final month of the season and rushed for 397 yards on 57 carries (6.96 yards per carry) in four games. He was again a force in the playoffs, topping 100 total yards and scoring a touchdown.

"The question is was Dobbins' play to finish last season enough for the Ravens to make a long-term commitment to the back, or do they still need more evidence that he's completely beyond the knee injury?" Zrebiec wrote.

Press Box’s Glenn Clark said it will be fascinating to see how things play out.

"If Dobbins has a strong season, he's suddenly set to become a free agent," Clark wrote. "They could use the franchise tag to keep him around, particularly if they've definitively decided that Patrick Queen is gone after this year or at least wouldn't be considered for the tag. But using the tag on a running back feels… kinda weird.

"Which all begs the further question, does it even matter what Dobbins does this season? Is it possible that the Ravens have quietly decided that they simply can't pay top dollar for any running back, particularly as Lamar Jackson's cap figures grow in the coming seasons? Even if we accept that the salary cap isn't 'real,' per se, and that there's always somewhere for teams to go to get money, budgeting has to happen. It's not unreasonable for the Ravens, particularly with a post-Greg Roman offense, to say that running back is a position where budgeting might have to hit the tightest. In fact, such a strategy might even be advisable."

Zrebiec said the most logical outcome is that Dobbins and the Ravens eventually reach an agreement on a second contract.

"Dobbins has great belief and confidence in himself. The Ravens believe he's a special back when healthy, and their commitment to running the ball won't disappear — even with a beefed-up receiving corps," Zrebiec wrote. "It makes a lot of sense for the two sides to figure out a future together beyond 2023. Dobbins, though, might have to wait. His tweets last week suggest he knows that."

Lamar Jackson Cracks Top Five in Chris Simms' Quarterback Rankings

NBC Sports’ Chris Simms has been counting down his top 40 quarterback rankings heading into the upcoming season, and Jackson landed at No. 5.

Jackson, who was No. 10 in Simms' rankings last year, moved up this year despite an injury-hampered 2022 season.

"This isn't about just last year. Last year is the most important part of this puzzle, but I can't erase the five years before that when the guy was in the MVP conversation," Simms said. "Injury, yes, a little concerning, certainly part of the conversation here. But the headline for him is, don't get it twisted, his passing is legit.

"He has an elite arm. He's an elite passer. … His arm is elite in all areas. He's got great power. He's got great touch. I don't know if there's anybody that has more releases in football other than Patrick Mahomes. …Here's the other thing that people are mistaken about: he's phenomenal in the pocket. He doesn't get the respect for that. He doesn't look to run; he looks to throw. And then when all else fails, he runs."

Simms believes the Ravens' new offensive scheme and additions at wide receiver will allow Jackson to show just how good he is as a passer.

"You're going to see a different guy this year. It's not him you're going to see different; it's the offense will finally set him up to make him look different," Simms said.

Mike Macdonald Praised for Devising Scheme That Slowed Joe Burrow and Bengals Offense

The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz identified five games from last season that could indicate "what's in store for the next phase of the NFL's scheme wars." One of the games– the Ravens' playoff loss to the Bengals in the wild-card round –showed how Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald's creativity slowed the explosive Cincinnati offense and nearly led to an upset.

"Macdonald has just one year of NFL play-calling experience under his belt, but he's already established himself as one of the best at disrupting a quarterback's thought process," Ruiz wrote. "Doing it against an unflappable quarterback like [Joe] Burrow requires real ingenuity and a well-drilled unit.

"Macdonald used simulated pressures — a four-man rush that looks like a blitz because a second-level defender rushes the quarterback, but a more traditional pass rusher, like a defensive end, replaces that player in coverage. Simulated pressures make it difficult to figure out which players are rushing and which are dropping back, so offenses will typically just keep the running back in as an extra blocker. That was certainly Cincinnati's answer. But Burrow had been throwing to his backs when defenses took away his deep options. And with them helping out in protection against Baltimore, Burrow was often forced to take a sack or just throw the ball away. Anytime you can make a quarterback reconsider his option after the snap, it's a win for the defense. And Macdonald has a deep bag of schematic tricks."

The Ravens defense also did a nice job against Burrow and the Bengals offense in two regular-season meetings. Ruiz noted that Burrow averaged 5 yards per play, minus-0.11 EPA (expected points added) per dropback, and a 36.6 percent success rate across the three matchups (as opposed to 6.8 yards per play, 0.14 EPA per dropback, and a 50.3 percent success rate against the Bengals' other opponents).

"Look for NFL defenses to lean on simulated pressures even more in 2023 after seeing how effective they've been against the league's best passing games," Ruiz wrote.

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