Ravens Position Preview – Running Backs
For the last two years, the Ravens have treated running the football like little kids doing their chores. The “Let’s not but say we did.” approach. Baltimore airs the ball out more than any other team of late. Part of that is playing from behind. Part of that is the west coast system where short passing is considered an extension of the running game. Part of that is a quarterback who likes to throw and what quarterback wouldn’t want to? Part of that is just bad play calling and down right idiotic game management at times.
One of the more noteworthy additions to the Ravens in the offseason was on the coaching staff. Shortly after their 2016 season came to an end, they made a choice to tab Greg Roman as Senior Offensive Assistant. He was the Offensive Coordinator in Buffalo and San Francisco where the offenses were run first oriented. Connecting the dots, many believe that the hire of Roman will lead to an influence on Marty Mornhinwheg and John Harbaugh to run the ball more. Roman’s four years as an OC found his rushing attacks ranked in the top four each year. In 2016 Baltimore was 28th in the league in rushing yards per game (91.6) and 21st in yards per attempt (4.0).
I don’t see Frank Gore or LeSean McCoy on this roster. But we’ll see if Greg Roman can make someone here into the next household name if he truly will have an influence on the offensive play calling. Or if his hire was a favor extended to a long time friend of the Harbaugh family. Here’s a look at the players who will battle it out with training camp getting underway this week.
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Terrance West – I’ll get to Kenneth Dixon in a moment. He might have the most upside of the group but Dixon will serve a four-game suspension to start the season which will open the door for Terrance West. West, the Towson product, has had his ups and downs throughout his pro career but there may be something there coming off his best season to date. If West is tagged as RB1 on week 1, we should find out right away if there will be commitment to running the football and if Greg Roman has a hand in it. West is a between the tackles runner that should get tote the rock 20 times a game. He can breakaway in an instant racking up 35% of his yards on carries over 15 yards (7th among qualifying backs). 12 runs of 15+ yards were 8th best in the league last year. When Pro Football Focus takes into account his elusiveness, breakaway tendency, and receiving ability, he adds up to the 13th highest graded back out of 62. Makes you wonder why he only got 14 touches a game last year while otherwise throwing the ball all over creation.
Kenneth Dixon – Dixon missed the first four games in 2016 after a knee injury in preseason cost him some time. The second year back out of Louisiana Tech will sit out the first four of this year for a PED violation. Last year it took a few games to get going, but Dixon flashed some slick, slippery skills notching 3.05 yards after contact for the second half of the season. With the suspension, Dixon will still participate in camp and preseason so we’ll get a look at him for further evaluation. He’s the type that if you can scheme to get him in open space he’s tough to bring down. West between the tackles and speedy Dixon on the edges could be quite the duo if they commit to the ground game.
Danny Woodhead – Woodhead is best suited for the 3rd down role and will get a good look while Dixon is out until week 5. The 32-year-old back will be catching passes out of the backfield. During OTA’s, Joe Flacco called him the best receiving back he’s had since Ray Rice. High praise, but this makes me wonder how committed the Ravens will be to running the ball when you have a veteran on the roster who catches passes as a running back. While he is on the wrong side of 30, he doesn’t have the mileage some 30+-year-old backs have. He missed just about all of 2016 with a torn ACL. He missed most of 2014 with a broken fibula. But in between in 2015 led all backs in receiving yards (755). Durability might be a concern despite practicing thus far with the Ravens with no restrictions. Woodhead provides a safety net for Flacco to dump off to. But if Flacco will lean on that too much like he has a tendency to is a story for another day.
Javorius Allen – Allen went from one of the lead rushers on the team as a rookie in 2015, to logging just nine carries in 2016 behind Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon. Not too much to add other than my scouting report on him from before the 2015 draft.
“6’0”, 221 lbs. Third or fourth round. Allen will also forego his senior season at Southern Cal after earning First Team All-Pac 12 honors. The question is, is Allen a great back, or is he aided by the amazing O-Line at USC? Is he aided by the elite receivers that keep defenders from stacking the box against him? Allen is quick, and very agile for his size, but lacks vision and instincts. He zigs into defenders when he should have zagged into open field at times. He doesn’t use his size to his advantage often to run through would be tacklers, rather using jukes to elude them. However he is always falling forward when hit. 2014 was Allen’s first season carrying the lion’s share of the load for the Trojans, so he has low mileage, less abuse on his body. Oddly enough, NFL.com compares Allen’s traits to those of Bernard Pierce. If the Ravens select Allen, they better hope it’s the 2012 Pierce, and not the 2013-14 Pierce that rendered him expendable.”
Looks like the Bernard Pierce comp was dead on…all the way around. Allen may be the first to get a chance if injuries occur, but he seems all but forgotten right now.
Lorenzo Taliaferro – “He’s still around” is what most people are probably saying having appeared in just six games in the last two seasons combined, logging just 22 touches in that time. On a stacked depth chart, the 6’1” 225-pounder could make the transition to fullback. Kyle Juszczyk is off to San Francisco, the depth chart ahead of him is full, he hasn’t been healthy enough to show us anything. He was tagged as a “decent blocker” coming out of Coastal Carolina in 2014. Wait and see how this one plays out.
Taquan Mizzell – Mizzell is an undrafted product out of Virgina where they employ a pro style running game. The 5’10”, 180lb back seems best suited as a pass catcher, having dropped just two balls while catching 126 of them the past two seasons in college. Scouting reports knock on him that he’s so shifty he jukes himself out sometimes instead of just cutting upfield. The Ravens have a lot of pass catching backs on the roster, but injuries are always a concern so Mizzell could find himself in the mix if the cards fall a certain way.