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Late for Work 6/4: Bold Prediction Has J.K. Dobbins Leading AFC North in Rushing Yards

RB J.K. Dobbins

Bold Prediction Has J.K. Dobbins Leading AFC North in Rushing Yards

There's been a lot of J.K. Dobbins talk in Late for Work this week, and I'm here to tell you there's more!

CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora made 19 "fearless forecasts" in different statistical categories for the upcoming 2021 season. One of them is that Dobbins will lead the AFC North in rushing yards.

"Check out any of his peripherals from his rookie year," La Canfora wrote. "A rookie year in which Mark Ingram was still supposed to be the man. Dobbins has explosion and is in a perfect scheme in the pistol. His elusiveness and ability to adapt to a moving and shifting mesh point makes him a true game-changer in an offense that is zigging when everyone else zags. Baltimore added some new coaches and wrinkles but will still run more than any team in the NFL – by quite a margin – and they won't want Lamar Jackson running 16-20 times a game once he is making $40M a year."

That's high praise considering the running backs Dobbins is up against.

Nick Chubb rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and is just one season removed from rushing for 1,494 yards. Joe Mixon is a talented running back on an improved Cincinnati Bengals team and the Pittsburgh Steelers also have a talented rookie running back in Najee Harris.

But everything Dobbins displayed during his rookie season shows he's capable of being a dominant rusher.

Here’s what Press Box’s Bo Smolka said would be second-year progress for Dobbins.

"He becomes just the second Ravens running back since 2014 to top 1,000 yards for a ground game that again proves to be the best in the league, he tops last year's nine-touchdown total and he elevates his play in the passing game en route to a Pro Bowl nod," Smolka wrote.

Greg Roman Likes What He Sees in Josh Oliver

Perhaps one of the most intriguing position battles for the Ravens this offseason is who will emerge as the third tight end behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle.

One of those players fighting for that spot is Josh Oliver, who the Ravens traded for back in March. The 24-year-old tight end has been limited with injuries during his NFL career, but Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman likes what he sees.

"Nothing would make me happier than to see him grab the brass ring," Roman said of Oliver during a question-and-answer session with Ravens season ticket holders. "He's going to have every opportunity to do it. He's a talented young man. He's very athletic, but he's got some real strength to him as well. If you can't block a defensive end or a linebacker, you're a fake tight end. I think he's got the chance to be a real tight end. If that could happen, it would really be a great addition for us."

You may be asking yourself why a third tight end is so important, but just look back to the 2019 season. The Ravens have utilized 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends, one receiver) to their advantage under Roman.

"The Ravens use tight ends extremely well, deploying them to create unusual blocking angles in the running game -- it's something rarely seen by defenses against other teams," former NFL scout Matt Williamson wrote. "Jackson is most comfortable passing to the middle of the field, where tight ends generally roam. But here is the key: If the defense decides to play its base personnel -- i.e., more bigger, slower people in a 4-3 or 3-4 -- against the Ravens' "13 Personnel," it simply isn't fast enough to keep up with Jackson as a runner. And there is also the great danger of Baltimore max protecting and taking a deep shot to Brown, who excels at beating coverage."

At 6-foot-5, 249 pounds, Oliver has the build and the athleticism to compete for a role in the Ravens' tight end rotation.

It'll be a strong competition with other players like Eric Tomlinson, Eli Wolf, Jacob Breeland, Tony Poljan, and Ben Mason in the mix.

"When you have multidimensional tight ends and you can put them in the game, the defense is put in the ultimate conflict," Roman said. "… Most defensive coordinators, their worst nightmare is that you continue to run the ball down their throat. They usually react in such a fashion, which opens up opportunities in the passing game, which I long for. That's when you can get really, really tilted in terms of the matchups that you can create."

Versatility is Key at Outside Linebacker

After losing Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, the Ravens are tasked with rebuilding their outside linebacker corps.

They re-signed Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee and drafted Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes. The Baltimore Sun's Daniel Oyefusi said there's one trait that stands out among the new-look group.

"The Ravens have yet to sign an outside free-agent pass rusher, which is still a possibility with the start of the season three months away," Oyefusi wrote. "But as the front office retooled the position through the offseason, it stayed true to a key trait that has come to define the entire defense: versatility.

"... With over 1,000 snaps to replace between the trio of Judon, Ngakoue and Ward, the Ravens will need Oweh and Hayes to master a complex defense and carve out a niche early, along with Bowser taking on an expanded role."

Outside linebackers are asked to do more than just rush the passer in Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's scheme. They need to be able to set the edge against the run, and even drop into coverage.

That made it important for the Ravens to re-sign Bowser, who had five passes defensed and three interceptions last season. It's also why they targeted the athleticism and versatility of Oweh and Hayes in the draft.

Among the group, Baltimore Beatdown’s Dustin Cox said Jaylon Ferguson needs to take his game to the next level this season.

"With both Ngakoue and Judon now gone, Ferguson has a chance to step up and earn more playing time, Cox wrote. "Considering the fact that the Ravens will have two rookies at the outside linebacker position, Ferguson, Bowser, and McPhee will all need to shoulder the load until one or both rookies are ready for more responsibilities on their plate."

Ravens Still Among Best Bets to Win AFC North

The AFC North is expected to be one of the toughest divisions this season, but pundits are still high on the Ravens to finish in first.

The Athletic's Gene Clemons looked at the division odds for every team and said the Ravens (+115) are "excellent value for a favorite."

"Despite what you hear said about Lamar Jackson, the truth is that he is currently the toughest player to gameplan for in the NFL," Clemons wrote. "He's a much better passer than many will lead you to believe and if he takes off lookout. They are adding more weapons on the perimeter that may signal that the team will allow him to function more like he did when he was at Louisville. That would be an even bigger problem for the league. The offensive line will be a wait-and-see project along with the pass rush, but there's no reason to believe that the Ravens don't have the inside track to win the division again."

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