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Baltimore running backs

Value might be spread around

There was a big kerfuffle on Twitter yesterday, in which J.K. Dobbins (pictured) called out's Ian Rapoport for suggesting he might not be ready for Week 1 while returning from an ACL injury. It highlighted the good and bad of Twitter: the bad is that anyone can say anything, the good is that sometimes the famous person will set the record straight.

In fairness to Rapoport (who I've criticized in the past, not that he cares), the staff at NFL Now really let him down on this one. Rapoport stated that sources with the Ravens said that Dobbins is "no sure thing for Week 1." That in itself is a fairly innocuous statement, but the caption splashed across the TV screen during the interview was "Dobbins not expected to be ready for Week 1." Those two statements are very different, and it was likely the second one that set the running back off.

Players are always more optimistic about their own return from injury, so Dobbins angrily saying not only would he be ready for Week 1 but he might not even open camp on the PUP list (note: you can open training camp on the PUP list but still not miss any games, if you're removed from the PUP list before the start of the season -- bunch of people on Twitter were getting that wrong, too) doesn't necessarily mean much.

The facts are as follows: Dobbins is coming off a serious knee injury last preseason that included a torn ACL and other ligament damage. He might not be ready for Week 1, and even if he is, it's very likely that he'll be brought along slowly. Hence the signing of veteran Mike Davis. Baltimore also has Gus Edwards, who's coming off an ACL injury of his own, though with Edwards it was reportedly just the ACL, so he's a better bet to be ready at the start of the season.

My takeaway from this story is pretty much what it's been all along: Dobbins, even if he's healthy for Week 1, is probably headed for a committee of backs, brought along slowly the first month of the season. If he proves healthy and effective, it could be more of a workhorse role; if not, Edwards looks a little better, and Davis might carve out some kind of a role. My suspicion is that Dobbins will go earlier than I'd choose to select him (although this story will doubtless push his ADP down some), and Davis looks a little better as a late-round dart throw than he did initially. His value is somewhere between insurance policy and potentially half of a committee (and the only fully healthy one) in September.

In recent years, the Ravens have had one of the league's very best running games, but it's tended to be spread among multiple backs (and of course quarterback Lamar Jackson). Seldom do they have an elite back, but frequently they have a couple of serviceable starters in fantasy leagues.

Since 2016, Baltimore has had a single running back finish higher than 19th at the position (PPR), Mark Ingram in 2019. But they've had four finish in the 20-25 range, and four more finish within the top 40-45. Looks like a backfield to look at for serviceable, occasional starters, but not elite options. The injury situation just makes that look even more likely -- the best back the first month of the season might not be the best back in the second or the third.

Table shows the team's best running backs since 2016, sorted by PPR rank in those seasons.

2019Mark Ingram1520210185.0262471510
2017Alex Collins152129734.623187619
2016Terrance West161937744.034236623
2020J.K. Dobbins151348056.018120924
2017Javorius Allen161535913.946250624
2021Devonta Freeman161335764.334190632
2020Gus Edwards161447235.09129637
2018Alex Collins101144113.615105844
2016Kenneth Dixon12883824.330162347
2019Gus Edwards161337115.4745251
2018Javorius Allen14411102.735196553
2021Latavius Murray141195014.21075654
2018Gus Edwards111377185.2220257

Maybe this report, particularly with NFL Now's inaccurate coverage of its own story, drives Dobbins down far enough that I'll consider him. There's a lot of upside if his estimation of his return is closer to accurate, and he's a Week 1 starter.

But it seems a little more likely, given my personal risk aversion, that I'll be looking at using even later picks on Edwards or perhaps even Davis. The former Falcon (and Panther, and Bear, and...) is a functional runner in a ground game that should still be excellent. If he is a Week 1 starter, and he might be, he'll have some value in fantasy leagues for as long as he's in the lineup. Not as a top-10 or 15 back, certainly, but maybe a top-25 guy who will be drafted a whole lot later.

--Andy Richardson

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