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Mailbag: What's the Long-Term Plan for J.K. Dobbins?

RB J.K. Dobbins
RB J.K. Dobbins

Mink: We don't know what goes on in Eric DeCosta's office, but judging from J.K. Dobbins' tweets about his future, it seems he and the Ravens have engaged in some contract talks this offseason. Dobbins is entering the final year of his rookie deal.

Head Coach John Harbaugh said during OTAs that the Ravens "want him back" beyond this season. Dobbins said he wants to be a Raven for life. But Dobbins and Harbaugh agreed that neither knows what the future holds. Same goes for me.

Here's what I do know. Dobbins has been very effective when healthy. He led all NFL running backs in yards per carry (6.0) as a rookie. Last year, after returning from a midseason knee procedure, he was up to 6.5 yards per carry. And he still wasn't totally healthy.

On multiple occasions late last year, Dobbins himself said he didn't have his top-end breakaway speed back. Will that return fully in 2023? We don't know yet. For now, Dobbins is in the position of negotiating without having fully healthy tape since 2020. That's no fault of his own, it's just the facts and there's no changing it. The only way to change that is with a healthy and monster 2023 campaign. Dobbins surely thinks he's capable of doing that, and the Ravens believe so as well. But does Dobbins want to play out his contract and see if the price tag goes up next offseason, or does he want to get paid now?

The other factor in all of this is a tepid running back market. Dalvin Cook, who has been one of the NFL's best running backs the past several years, was cut by the Vikings earlier this month and remains unsigned. Ezekiel Elliott is also still a free agent. As mentioned in the question, Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs also haven't yet gotten the extensions they would like after huge seasons. So what is Dobbins' market value? It's hard to say.

With Gus Edwards also entering the final year of his contract, it would be good for the Ravens to secure some long-term stability at running back beyond this year. I'm a big believer in Dobbins' talent, and while he wears his emotions on his sleeve, I also like his swagger and playful personality. If the two sides can arrive at a contract number that provides stability for both sides, it could be a win-win because Dobbins gets paid and the Ravens get a player who, if healthy, still has a lot of upside to show.

Downing: The left guard competition is wide open right now. Rookie Sala Aumavae-Laulu took the first-team reps at minicamp, and Harbaugh said the sixth-round pick is in the mix to earn the starting job. Ben Cleveland is also in that mix, but the 2021 third-round pick seems to be behind in that race going into training camp. Aumavae-Laulu performed well with the first-team offense in minicamp, and the Ravens may want to give the young lineman a chance to grow alongside Ronnie Stanley and Tyler Linderbaum. Veteran John Simpson has also taken a good portion of the first-team snaps during the offseason, and he brings 21 games of starting experience with him. The Ravens signed Simpson late last season and he could end up winning the job to open the year.

Cleveland isn't out of the competition, however. He could earn more reps for himself with a strong start to training camp. Offensive line competitions aren't determined until the pads come on, and that's when Cleveland needs to shine. A big factor for him will be his ability to stay on the field. He's missed time in camp the last two seasons, and that's held him back in his development. If he's going to win the starting job, he needs to show the coaches he can stay on the field and consistently perform at a high level. He's a talented player, and he knows this is an important training camp for him.

Mink: The Ravens are loaded at inside linebacker with Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen the starters and the arrival of third-round pick Trenton Simpson in the draft. Ross really flashed last preseason and I thought he had a chance to make an impact as a rookie before going on the shelf with a foot injury. I still like his potential, but he will be competing with Malik Harrison, Kristian Welch and Del'Shawn Phillips for a fourth roster spot. Whoever wins that spot will mostly come down to who is best and contributes the most on special teams. The other three have more experience in that area than Ross, but don't count him out by any means.

Downing: The Ravens scaled back the preseason snap counts for their starters in a big way last year, and I expect them to stick with that model this year. However, they do get young players on the field, and I expect the rookie class to see action this preseason. Last year's first-round pick Kyle Hamilton saw limited preseason action, and I expect the same for Zay Flowers. The Ravens will probably play him in two of the three preseason contests and give him about 30 snaps between the two games. A big factor in that decision, of course, will be Flowers' health. He missed some time in the offseason program because of a soft-tissue injury, and the Ravens will be careful if that lingers into training camp. Part of the decision will also be the health of Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman. If those players take longer than expected to get back to full speed, then the Ravens may be more hesitant to play Flowers much in the preseason.

As far as the rest of the rookie class goes, I expect them to see a significant workload. The Ravens want to see what Trenton Simpson and Kyu Blu Kelly can do in game action, and the preseason will be their opportunity. As mentioned above, Aumavae-Laulu could be competing for a starting job this summer, and the preseason will be an opportunity to win that spot. The decisions for each player will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but I'm expecting to see just about every rookie take the field this preseason.

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