The Baltimore Ravens were near the bottom of the league in rushing last year and need to address the running back position. Should they do that through free agency, or the NFL Draft?
The Baltimore Ravens finished last season 28th in the NFL in total rushing yards with 1,463. For reference, that’s only 224 yards more than league-leader David Johnson had on his own last season.
Running back is a major need for the Baltimore Ravens, among many others, and it needs to be addressed, but the question is, how do the Ravens address it? Through free agency, or through the NFL Draft?
One thing is fairly clear: Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon are not the running backs that will make the Baltimore Ravens’ rushing attack something to be feared. Both showed some flashed last season, and both averaged 4.0+ yards per carry, but John Harbaugh wants a difference-maker at the running back position, and that’s not what West and Dixon are.
As far as free agency goes, there are some pretty solid running backs available, if the Ravens are willing to take a chance on them. The two biggest names out there are Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson, two players who were, at one point, the two best running backs in football.
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Now, both Peterson and Charles come with some problems. Peterson has missed an entire season due to injury twice in the past three years, and he’s also 31 years old. Now, you could argue that Peterson has shown a special ability to come back from injury during his career, but the point remains that Peterson isn’t young any more.
Charles has had similar injury issues, missing the past two seasons due to injury. Charles is 30, and is now two seasons removed from playing in the NFL. Could he go back to being the Jamaal Charles we all know? Possibly. But there’s also the risk that he continues to deal with injuries.
Not only do Charles and Peterson have checkered injury pasts, but they’ll both likely command more money than the Ravens are, or should be, willing to spend. The Ravens have a lot of needs, and the needs on defense (most notably linebacker) are more pressing than their running back need, so they can’t blow all their money on one position.
So could the Ravens draft a running back? That’s possible. The only running back the Ravens have ever drafted in the first round was Jamal Lewis at the fifth overall pick in 2000. With the recent success stories of Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon, perhaps the Ravens could be looking towards a running back at the 16th overall pick.
The two names that pop out in the first round are Leonard Fournette out of LSU and Dalvin Cook out of Florida State. Fournette has been described as a rare talent, but raised some eyebrows when he weighed in at 240 pounds at the NFL Combine, larger than he stated he was at LSU.
Fournette also had a 28.5-inch vertical, which is pretty bad. But, on a positive note, Fournette ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, which is exceptionally good considering his size. Fournette seems to profile as a big bruiser of a back with some speed.
Cook has had a much better combine than Fournette has. He’s a smaller back, and ran a pretty solid 40-yard dash at 4.49 seconds. Cook has good speed and good strength and profiles as an all-around solid running back.
It may sound like it would be strange for the Ravens to pick a running back in the first round, but they’ve come close to doing it before. They were interested in Todd Gurley back in 2012, and in Ezekiel Elliott last year, but both were snatched up before the Ravens were able to pick them.
Personally, I think the Ravens biggest need that they need to address in the draft is at the linebacker position, but there’s also a good number of linebackers in the draft this year, so you could argue that the Ravens could get a quality linebacker in the second round while taking a running back in the first.
We’ll see what the Ravens end up doing. It certainly would be different for them to draft a running back in the first round, but given the team’s needs this offseason, I don’t think it would be out of the question, and I don’t think it would necessarily be a terrible idea.