Let me start by saying that I was stoked that the Ravens signed Terrance West. The local kid played well this past season, especially considering the ups and downs the offense went through as a whole. I think West legitimately loves playing in Baltimore and I hope the Ravens keep him around. He’s a powerful back and he seems to get better as he gets more touches throughout the game.
I also really loved the Kenneth Dixon pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Dixon was one of the most dynamic and prolific offensive players in college football. I also think he showed that he can be a good change-of-pace back as he provides nice ability as a receiver.
When I listened to John Harbaugh after the season ended, I heard him talk a lot about needing to get better at running back and get back to running the ball more effectively. Frankly, I thought that the running game wasn’t so bad in 2016 – they just forgot about it in multiple games. However, I got the impression that Harbaugh wasn’t happy with his current running back depth chart and that there was more than a possibility of making some changes there.
Running Backs Undervalued?
Could the Ravens spend a high draft pick on a running back? Should they?
When it comes to the NFL draft, everyone has their opinion on the position or player that the Ravens should use their first-round pick on. However, one draft topic that will almost always garner heavy debate is using a first-round pick on a running back. In the past decade, media pundits and scouts have insinuated that the running back position just doesn’t carry the same value that it used to.
But is that really true? Sure, teams that have outstanding receivers and an outstanding quarterback can certainly get away with scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to their backfield. Yet, the two teams vying for the Super Bowl Trophy Sunday have two of the best passing offenses in the league and they still rely on their respective running games. When it comes to the Ravens, I would hardly consider their receivers and quarterback to be outstanding.
Other top offenses in the NFL such as Dallas and Pittsburgh also heavily rely on their running backs. Based on these factors, the conclusion at which I arrive is that even though the NFL rules favor a high-frequency passing attack, teams that have talented backfields are more likely to produce top-tiered offenses simply because they’re multi-dimensional.
The point is, having a multi-dimensional offense is a key factor in a season’s success and an offense’s success.
Should Ravens Reinforce Their Stable?
Since Ray Rice, the Ravens have really not had a running back that truly garnered a ton of defensive attention. Yes, Justin Forsett had a good season while Gary Kubiak was in town, but he’s done next to nothing outside of the 2014 season.
Overall, I think the Ravens can be successful with West and Dixon in the backfield, but I cannot honestly say that they are more than average to slightly-above-average players. I think with a more talented backfield, the Ravens would be a much more dynamic offense and could force opposing defenses to pick their poison.
Additionally, Joe Flacco needs help. He’s not Brady. He’s not Aaron Rogers, who can scramble to his left and throw a frozen dart 30 yards down the field to have his tight end make a toe-tap sideline catch. That’s just not what Joe’s game is about. Joe is at his best when the running game is effective and is setting up play-action.
I think that if the Ravens end up taking a running back early in this draft, the only two guys that make sense are Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Both are incredibly talented and have elite-level upside. They’re also two very different runners.
Dalvin Cook, Junior, Florida State, 5’11” 210lbs.
2016 Season Stats: 288 rushes, 1,765 yards, 33 receptions, 488 yards, 20 total TD’s.
When I watch Cook on film, his burst, balance, and cutback ability really stand out. Everyone else on the field just looks like they’re running in slow motion, which is why Cook has drawn a lot of comparison to Chris Johnson and Lamar Miller.
I think those two guys are good comparisons from a physical attribute perspective, but I think Cook is a much better prospect than either Johnson or Miller ever were. Cook is patient behind the line, he lets blocks set up, and even though he isn’t a physically imposing back, he rarely gets brought down on initial contact and he easily runs through arm-tackles. He’s also an excellent receiver.
Leonard Fournette, Junior, LSU, 6’1″ 230lbs.
2016 Season Stats: 129 rushes, 843 yards, 15 receptions, 146 yards, 8 total TD’s.
Looking at Fournette’s production in 2016, one wouldn’t understand why he was a Heisman candidate. LSU’s offense was putrid this past year. They had no quarterback to speak of and the coaching changes definitely had an impact. To really understand why Fournette is such a highly regarded prospect, you have to turn on the tape and look at his statistics from 2015 (1,953 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns).
Fournette is a very different runner than Cook. Fournette is a throwback type of runner to guys like Eddie George and Jim Brown. He’s got some serious wheels and lateral explosiveness for a bigger back and he’s just a physical, punishing runner. I think he’s an impact player almost anywhere he goes as long as he can stay healthy.
What if a RB is BPA?
I do believe that both Cook and Fournette are better than West and Dixon. I believe that both have special traits that make them impact players and I think the Ravens are currently devoid of impact players on offense. It is true that there are other positions of need, but what if at pick 16 one or both of these guys are available and they’re widely considered to be better than any of the other prospects on the big board?
There is nothing wrong with either of those two picks and I think they’d be good additions to the Ravens and would clearly fill an area of need.
But ask yourself, knowing what you know now, should Dallas have bypassed Ezekiel Elliott and gone with more of a need like DeForrest Buckner or Jalen Ramsey? Both of those guys look to be legitimate players and they would have filled some areas of need for Dallas – no doubt about it. Dallas didn’t need Zeke. They had just signed Alfred Morris and they still had Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden. That trio is solid – not great, but solid. However, one cannot dispute how talented Zeke is or how he really made that offense come alive this season. If Zeke continues on this career trajectory, he’s going to be wearing a gold jacket some day.
In my opinion, Fournette and Cook have that kind of upside. I can’t say the same about West and Dixon.
So, it begs the question, if the Ravens have the opportunity to take a talented running back with the 16th overall pick this year, should they? My brain says no – absolutely not, because they have major needs at pass-rusher, receiver, and cornerback – and there are some very talented players worthy of the 16th overall selection.
However, my heart says…maybe.
So Ravens Nation, do you think the Ravens should consider a running back at pick 16?