After a rookie season that saw J.K. Dobbins average 6.0 yards per carry, expectations were sky-high for the second-year pro from THE Ohio State University heading into 2021. An unfortunate ACL tear quickly derailed those expectations, and the Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs as a result of a changed offensive philosophy.
Fast forward to 2022. Dobbins is expected to regain control of the Ravens’ backfield as the RB1 and have a stellar season. Will that stellar seasons lead to a top 12 finish? This is where we take A Look Inside the Baltimore Ravens’ offense.
A Look Back
For a better glimpse into Dobbins, let’s go back to his days in Columbus with the Buckeyes. He totaled 4.456 rushing yards in three seasons, good for a 6.1 yards per carry average. Dobbins also totaled 38 rushing TDs on the ground, almost 13 per season. To see that he put up six yards per carry and nine TDs his rookie season is a sign that his college numbers weren’t artificially inflated.
Dobbins also knew what to do with the ball in his hands. He finished 12th in NCAA in Missed Tackles Forced (73) and tied for 24th in Yards After Contact Per Attempt (4.01). However, the one number that stands out in regards to his potential is 31. That’s the number of runs of 15 or more yards Dobbins had in 2019, which led college football and was more than Jonathan Taylor. Dobbins’ six YPC his rookie year doesn’t look very misleading now, does it?
What about his skill as a receiver? Unfortunately, the Buckeyes weren’t much of a “dump it off to the RB” type of offense. They typically recruit upper echelon receivers and they let them do most of the damage in the passing game. Dobbins managed over 20 receptions each season and averaged 215 receiving yards per season. Those are promising numbers when trying to predict future NFL success, but hardly elite.
When judging RBs from a fantasy perspective, we look for targets and receptions to separate the elite backs from the consistent RB2s of the world. For every Derrick Henry that tops 1,500 rushing yards with 15 touchdowns and finishes as a top 5 RB with less than 20 receptions, there’s a Kenyan Drake who flirts with 1,000 yards and scores ten touchdowns as the RB15 with 25 receptions.
The point is, without a healthy dose of receptions, you need to be an elite runner to finish as a top 10 RB most seasons. Dobbins gave us the idea that he could, in fact, be that running back.
A Look Forward with Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
The one commonality with a Greg Roman offense is he’s going to run the football. A lot. In his nine seasons as an offensive coordinator, Roman’s offenses have never ranked lower than ninth in the league in rushing attempts. In fact, over those nine seasons, only twice has a Roman offense finished outside the top three in rushing attempts.
For as much as Roman runs the football, his passing volume is at or near the bottom of the league. Last year was the first year a Greg Roman offense has finished above 29th in pass attempts. As mentioned previously, the Ravens lost their top two RBs in training camp. This means 2021 was the exception, not the rule. So if Roman doesn’t call a ton of passing plays, how many pass attempts can realistically go to the running back position?
In 2021, the Ravens finished ninth in the league in passing attempts and threw to the RB position the third-fewest times (83 targets). That worked out to a 14% target share, but this is the anomaly year. The Ravens finished ninth in the league in pass attempts and Lamar Jackson averaged almost 32 pass attempts per game. During Jackson’s first two years as a starter, 2019 and 2020, the Ravens targeted the RB position 14.6% and 15.8% of the time, respectively.
If Roman doesn’t throw to RBs, can he still produce a top 12 RB? Yes, but the odds aren’t favorable.
In Roman’s four seasons calling plays in San Francisco, Frank Gore finished as a top 12 RB only once, despite rushing for more than 1,100 yards in all four seasons. In that lone top 12 season — RB10 in 2012 — Gore had 28 receptions. He didn’t top 20 receptions in the other three seasons.
In Roman’s two seasons calling plays in Buffalo, LeSean McCoy finished as the RB19 and the RB4, respectively. During McCoy’s top-five season in 2016, he had 50 receptions. In Roman’s three seasons to date in Baltimore, only Mark Ingram in 2019 had a top 12 finish — RB11 thanks to 15 total touchdowns.
Needless to say, a lot of rushing yards help, but receptions and touchdowns are what’s needed to get an RB into RB1 territory.
Can Dobbins finish as a top 12 RB?
The short answer: of course, he can. Will he? The odds aren’t favorable. Having a quarterback like Lamar Jackson is both a blessing and a curse to a running back’s production.
The blessing — defenses have to account for a quarterback’s mobility. That’s one more lane that’s open for a running back to take advantage of. Dobbins can break tackles, gain significant yards after contact, and gain yards in big chunks. If you told me he would have only 200 carries on the season but still top 1,100 rushing yards, I’d believe you. If you told me Dobbins will score 13 total touchdowns, I’d believe you. And if you told me he exceeds 20 receptions, I’d also believe you.
The curse — unless Greg Roman is calling plays where Dobbins is the first read for a pass, Lamar Jackson isn’t dumping it off. Jackson owns the single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback. His ability with his legs gives him the confidence to not throw a short pass when other quarterbacks would try to avoid a sack. Roman has shown over his career that he’s not calling many plays to get his RBs the ball through the air.
I firmly expect Dobbins to have a great season. I’m not worried about his recovery from a torn ACL because he’ll be a full year removed from the injury. His receiving work, or lack thereof, is what worries me.
The good news — Dobbins’ current ADP has him as the 21st RB off the board according to FantasyPros. That’s an appropriate price for an RB who has the potential for 1,200 or more rushing yards, double-digit touchdowns, and a minimum of 20 receptions. Do you know what likely happens if Dobbins hits those thresholds? He finishes the season as a top 12 running back.
A Look Inside the Baltimore Ravens
Editor’s Note: We asked our writers to focus on one player, but we don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. Here is a quick look at the rest of the Ravens.
Lamar Jackson: Heading into the final year of his contract, Jackson might be on the verge of another MVP-caliber season. His 2021 season was marred by injury after losing not one, but two of his top running backs. He set a career-low for total TDs as a starter and threw the most INTs of his young career (13).
The team then traded his number one WR during the NFL draft and didn’t add significant pieces around him to help him return to MVP-caliber play. Um, not great, Bob! Jackson will be forced to shoulder a large load once again, but he still has one of the best TEs in the league to throw to and he gets his top two RBs back. Jackson should still be in line for a top 7 finish.
Gus Edwards: Edwards might be as good as it gets as a backup RB. He’s never finished a season averaging less than five yards per carry or 700 rushing yards. Edwards likely won’t see more than 150 rushes unless Dobbins gets hurt. He’s also never topped 10 receptions in a season. Edwards is a depth piece with FLEX upside. Nothing more, nothing less.
Rashod Bateman: The Ravens drafted Bateman in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. During the 2022 NFL Draft, the Ravens traded their number one WR, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. If that doesn’t offer a vote of confidence for Bateman, I don’t know what will. He runs crisp routes and has good hands. Bateman is also a very different type of WR than Brown.
Bateman will see a steady stream of targets as the 1B to Mark Andrews’ 1A in the passing game, and that’s more than worth his current ADP of WR38.
Devin Duvernay: Duvernay was a speed demon at the University of Texas, averaging 14.1 yards per reception in college. So far in the NFL, he’s been much less than that. In 2021, Duvernay averaged 8.2 YPR. After trading away Brown this offseason, the Ravens need someone to stretch the field. The WR2 role on the team is Duvernay’s job to lose. For fantasy, the targets just won’t be there to be a relevant starter.
James Proche: I have an obligation to my co-host, Joe Zollo, to mention James Proche here. He’s been hyping him up for years, and now, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Proche has typically been the team’s punt returner, but he once led all of college football in receptions (111). If Duvernay fails to seize the WR2 role, we could see a scenario where Proche has a few relevant fantasy weeks.
Mark Andrews: Andrews took full advantage of the anomaly that was the Ravens’ 2021 passing attack. He finished the season as fantasy’s TE1 with 107 catches, 1,361 yards, and nine touchdowns. It’s fair to expect the Ravens’ passing volume to take a huge step back in terms of volume.
Andrews is the team’s de facto WR1 while Bateman gets his legs as the team’s future WR1. I’m not sure Andrews finishes as the overall TE1 again, but he should still be a top-three option. He is worth a pick in the first three rounds to gain a distinct advantage at the TE position.
We hope you enjoyed our look at J.K. Dobbins for fantasy football this season. You can find all of our A Look Inside articles here!
If you’re prepping for your dynasty drafts, you can also find our rookie consensus rankings here if you’re preparing for your dynasty drafts!