When the Baltimore Ravens released running back Bernard Pierce on Wednesday in light of a DUI arrest the night before. The move was more about his play on the field than his actions off of it.
Sure, Pierce joined the likes of Terrence Cody and Victor Hampton as players who have been released by the team shortly after an arrest this offseason, but all three players lacked intrinsic value to the team, even Pierce.
Pierce’s steep decline from his rookie season in 2012 – when he averaged 4.9 yards per carry – was clear. Even prior to his arrest, he was expendable as the third running back. Late in the 2014 season, he shared time with Fitz Toussaint as the third back in the depth chart behind Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro.
With the NFL Draft upcoming on April 30, the Ravens will have seven rounds of opportunities to not only replace Pierce, but find a younger, more talented player to round out the backfield. Whether it’s in the first round or the seventh, the Ravens can add a valuable new piece to the running back committee with a slew of potential Pierce replacements in just about every round.
Who are some running back prospects who may be of interest to the Ravens?
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin – Yeah, yeah. Selecting a running back in the first round is not the best use of a draft pick. Regardless of how good the prospect is, the value at the position is declining. I know all of this.
However, do not rule out the possibility of a Gordon-Ravens match. The Ravens are doing their due diligence with the dynamic Wisconsin running back:
RB Melvin Gordon is scheduled to visit the #Ravens prior to the draft, a source said. Baltimore currently holds the 26th pick.
— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) March 18, 2015
In terms of all-around ability, Gordon is this year’s premier running back, but Gordon may not be ideal for Baltimore’s zone blocking scheme. He is a quick accelerator who would be more valuable in a man-blocking scheme where he can burst through run lanes without needing to think. If Baltimore’s coaching staff can turn the immense skill set of Gordon into quality-vision running in a zone scheme, Gordon to Baltimore would not be a bad fit.
Todd Gurley, Georgia – Projected by many as a first round selection, Gurley makes the list as a prospect who will come with his fair share of concerns. The talented, physical runner shows some shades of Jamal Lewis with his nimble feet, despite his 6’1, 222 pound frame.
— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) March 18, 2015
Gurley is far from a sure thing, despite his immense talent. He tore his ACL in mid-November of the 2014 season, so expecting him to seamlessly transition to the NFL is farfetched. His year-one contribution will likely be marginal, but if the front office envisions a powerful between-the-tackles runner, Gurley could be a fit. However, the Ravens should proceed with caution when projecting his impact in the NFL.
Duke Johnson, Miami (FL) – In terms of fit, Johnson is the most ideal of the top-tier running back prospects. His game is reminiscent of Ray Rice at times, and he displays plenty of qualities ideal for a zone-blocking rush attack.
Throw in Johnson’s receiving ability and he would give the Ravens a dual threat out of the backfield. He would thrive in a three-back system.
Jay Ajayi, Boise State – If Gurley excites you, then Ajayi surely will, too. The 6’0, 221 pound bruising running back is an incredible athlete for his size. Ajayi’s tackle-breaking ability is on par with Gurley, who is often considered the best in that category in the 2015 draft class.
Ajayi displayed the agile feet needed for a player of his size to bounce to the outside, but Ajayi will do most of his damage between the tackles in the NFL. Throw in Ajayi’s 50 receptions for 535 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2014, and he is the complete package at the position.
Tevin Coleman, Indiana – Coleman is worth noting here because of his planned visit with the Ravens. That does not mean the Ravens will select him, but the interest in him is there.
Coleman bursted onto the scene in 2014 with 2,036 rushing yards on just 270 carries, averaging an impressive 7.5 yards per carry. He is an upright runner – which could lead to issues at the next level – with true big play ability out of the backfield. As a player who can produce drive-changing long runs, he could excel in a three-back system with a limited workload.
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama – For the Ozzie Newsome-Alabama prospect conspirators, Yeldon makes the list. Like Coleman, he is an upright runner. However, Yeldon’s quick feet, open field cuts and vision make him a better fit in a zone-blocking scheme.
Yeldon is an interesting case. He was better as a freshman in 2012 than as a junior last season. If the Yeldon who showed up early in his Alabama career reappears in the NFL, he could be an effective weapon.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska – If the Ravens want a small, shifty, versatile running back similar to Forsett, then Abdullah could be in play. In terms of athleticism, Abdullah is at the top of this year’s draft class:
Abdullah possesses a rare combination of quick cuts, agility, ankle flexion and burst. He should have success because of his natural ability, but he must develop more patience as a runner to excel in a zone-blocking scheme.
He does have one serious concern which his NFL success will hinge on: fumbling issues. Abdullah is far and away the worst running back in this year’s draft when it comes to securing the football. Typically, issues with ball security never drastically improve.
Mike Davis, South Carolina – Entering the 2014 season, Davis was considered one of the best running backs in college football. Then his yards per carry dipped from 5.8 in 2013 to 4.9 in 2014 on four less carries.
Davis’ inability to take his strong 2013 season and turn it into a stellar 2014 campaign has made him a rather quiet prospect who has not received much fanfare. That could lead him to slip to the middle of the third day of the draft, which would give a team like the Ravens a chance to grab a quality talent late in the draft.
Davis is a stout, compact runner with high effort as a ball carrier and inherent receiving ability (66 catches over last two seasons). He likely never amounts to a feature back in any offense, but he could offer value as a change-of-pace back with a limited workload.