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Player Spotlight: The Ravens' Backfield

A detailed look at the Ravens' backfield situation for 2016.

An Injury Riddled and Unpredictable Season

To say the Ravens had an uncharacteristically bad season is an understatement. Through the course of the year, they lost to injury Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, Justin Forsett, Crockett Gilmore, and others. They ultimately finished with a 5-11 record.

Players returning from injury will make a big difference for this team, but there are a few issues left unsettled from last year. One of those issues is the state of Baltimore’s backfield. When knowledgeable fantasy owners were asked for their impressions of the running back situation, opinions varied greatly. The following responses are representative of some of the more common viewpoints that emerged:

"It’s a perennial crapshoot. You never know who’s going to be the bellcow from season to season since Ray Rice left." - Micah

“I’m intrigued. Forsett is the name. Kenneth Dixon is a guy I liked coming out… My guess is they hope for Forsett to return to what they had seen, while also hoping Dixon will be something big for them.” -Bryan

Javorius Allen wasn’t special, but didn’t play too bad last year filling in for Forsett. I think they give him a chance to compete for the starting job.” -Devin

“Forsett is the number one and will get the bulk of the carries. The other guys will see spot time through the game. The more important question is will the offensive line be able to open a hole, even with Stanley added to the line?” -Austin

“Watch out for Trent Richardson! He’s got his mind right now!” -Simon

The following poll was also taken to get an idea of who owners believe is likely to be the most fantasy relevant back on the roster by the end of the year:

Diving into some commonly held beliefs...

A belief that Baltimore will employ a committee approach.

In his most recent years, Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman hasn’t shown a tendency to depend on multiple runners to equally split the load. With the Bears, Matt Forte was the unquestioned feature back who saw a career record number of touches. When he came over to Baltimore after being fired from the Bears, Justin Forsett got the lion’s share of the touches until an arm injury sidelined him for the duration of the year in week eleven. The primary responsibilities were then handed off to Buck Allen for the remainder of the season. While other running backs will see change of pace touches, Trestman’s tendency is to rely heavily on one.

A belief the offensive line is a weakness for this team.

Our offensive line guru Matt Bitonti rated this unit the ninth best in the league in his latest offensive line rankings. Of course, these rankings were done before Eugene Monroe was released by the team. Matt followed up with this tweet after the release of Monroe:

It takes time for offensive lines to gel when multiple pieces change. We have to think that this downgrades their line play somewhat, as a competition begins for the open guard spot and Ronnie Stanley will be counted on as a rookie to start at left tackle. While the unit may not be as good as previously thought, to project them at being completely ineffective at run blocking is a stretch.

A belief that it’s futile to try to figure out who will lead the Ravens’ backfield because it’s never the same back twice.

If this backfield were unpredictable from week to week or run with a committee approach, that concern might be justified. However, as was previously touched upon, the week-to-week picture is very clear and Trestman does show willingness to rely on one individual in the run game. The fact that the leading rusher for Baltimore is different from year to year since the days of Ray Rice has not been the fault of the Ravens’ coaching staff. Rather, injuries (particularly to Justin Forsett) have been the reason that the player to finish first in Baltimore has not been the same each year for a while now.

A belief that Forsett will get the first crack at the starting job, but confidence in him is not high.

Confidence in him should not be high. After struggling to stay healthy throughout his early career, Forsett ended up having a remarkable renaissance campaign in 2014. Many pegged him to do the same in 2015, but Forsett struggled to be consistent from week to week. He was averaging 4.2 yards per carry before the injury capped his year. He’ll be turning age 31 in October, and though he doesn’t have the traditional wear and tear of a featured runner, the storied injury history and competition around him should give owners pause. The coaching staff may defer to him early on out of veteran respect, but not getting stable results may prompt them to give others on the roster a crack at the job.

A belief that Buck Allen did enough last season to get a shot.

Allen did a serviceable job when called into duty, averaging 3.8 yards a carry. He showed he was a better receiver than some gave him credit for coming out of college. However, he did fumble in multiple games and his effort was not sufficient to impress his coaches enough to hand him the job going into the 2016 season. Being thrown back into the mix to compete, Allen is not likely to emerge the victor, especially with more talented and experienced options present on the roster.

A belief that Kenneth Dixon has a chance to lead the backfield in production as a rookie.

Despite sliding to day three of the 2016 Draft, Dixon is easily the most versatile and talented option at running back on the Ravens’ roster. Standout traits include plus instincts for the position, fantastic ability as a receiver, elusiveness when he breaks runs to the second level, and a nose for the end zone when he gets goal line work. His weaknesses are few, but Dixon has historically had some injury concerns of his own in college. Some scouts are concerned he does not currently have the thickness needed to hold up to his own physical style of play. He also had some fumble problems in college, losing 13 balls over the course of three seasons.  If given a fair shake to start, Dixon could present a David Johnson-like surprise for fantasy owners in the 2016 season.

A belief that Trent Richardson could resurrect his career with the Ravens.

While not impossible, it is definitely a longshot. Richardson is with his fourth team and was out of football last year. He has made multiple statements to media that he understands this is his last realistic chance to play professionally and is taking it very seriously. Though he seems to have the work ethic and weight issues under control, there have been no reports that he is doing anything to stand out from the other backs. Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun believes that Richardson is competing for the fourth and final spot on the depth chart with Terrance West and Lorenzo Taliaferro. On top of it all, Richardson will likely require knee surgery for a pre-existing condition.

JUSTIN FORSETT POSITivES

  • Forsett has past tenure and experience as the starter.

  • He averaged a serviceable 4.2 yards a carry in 2015.

  • Forsett may get veteran respect from the staff that allows him to enter the season as the starter.

JUSTIN FORSETT NEGATIVES

  • He was inconsistent from game to game in 2015.

  • Forsett will turn 31 in season and has a storied injury history.

  • He is no lock to earn the starting job or keep it throughout the season.

JAVORIUS ALLEN POSITIVES

  • Allen performed well when called into duty last year.

  • He proved to be a better receiving back than most believed.

JAVORIUS ALLEN NEGATIVES

  • He only managed to average 3.8 yards a carry last season.

  • Allen fumbled the ball in multiple appearances last year.

  • He is competing with running backs who have more overt talent and experience.

KENNETH DIXON POSITIVES

  • He is an excellent receiving back.

  • Dixon is extremely elusive when he breaks runs into the second level of a defense.

  • His effort and energy increases exponentially as he approaches the goal line.

KENNETH DIXON NEGATIVES

  • Dixon lacks the Draft pedigree. He was a day three selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.

  • Injured a few times in college, Dixon may need to add more man weight to his frame to hold up to the punishment he’ll take in the NFL.

  • Dixon lost 13 fumbles in his college career and needs to be more cautious with the rock at the professional level.

TRENT RICHARDSON POSITIVES

  • Richardson seems to have put his preparation and weight issues behind him.

  • Richardson knows this is his last shot and is approaching it as such.

TRENT RICHARDSON NEGATIVES

  • He is on his fourth NFL team and did not compete during the regular season in 2015.

  • Richardson is fighting for his NFL life, just trying to stick on a roster.

  • He has not done anything to impress in practices or mini camps so far. He now will likely have to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery and miss time.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There will be value in this backfield in 2016. Outside of an injury situation pushing them to the top of the depth chart, it’s safe to say that Javorius Allen and Trent Richardson have no real chance of earning the starting role. Justin Forsett and Kenneth Dixon are the two backs most likely to matter for redraft purposes. It’s hard to know which one will enter the season as the starter, but it’s a little easier to envision Kenneth Dixon as the most valuable asset by year’s end if truly given equal opportunity by the Ravens coaching staff. Dixon is also the cheaper of the pair. Forsett’s ADP is 103, or a mid-ninth round selection in a 12 team league. Dixon’s consensus ADP is 124, making him an early 11th-round selection. Taking a flier on Dixon could be a league winning move. In dynasty formats, Dixon is the clear choice out of this backfield for owners. In startup drafts, he is going anywhere from round six to round eight. There are likely going to be better propositions in those middle rounds, but taking Dixon in the eighth or later is not outlandish.


JUSTIN FORSETT 2016 PROJECTIONS

DAVID DODDS’ PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

14

165

726

4.4

4

34

252

7.4

1

161.80

BOB HENRY’S PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

16

130

570

4.4

3

30

185

6.2

1

129.50


JAVORIUS ALLEN 2016 PROJECTIONS

BOB HENRY’S PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

16

140

550

3.9

3

20

150

7.5

1

108.00

JASON WOOD’S PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

16

64

240

3.8

2

23

190

8.3

1

84.00


KENNETH DIXON 2016 PROJECTIONS

JASON WOOD’S PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

16

120

545

4.5

4

27

225

8.3

0

128.00

BOB HENRY’S PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

16

110

460

4.2

3

27

225

9.0

0

127.50


TRENT RICHARDSON 2016 PROJECTIONS

MAURILE TREMBLAY’S PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

16

25

106

4.2

1

10

78

7.8

0

34.40

JASON WOOD’S PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

16

1

5

5.0

0

1

5

5.0

0

2.00

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Rotoworld’s Evan Silva is down on Forsett and higher on Dixon in his Offseason Low Down article:

"At best, Forsett will be part of a multi-headed RBBC with scant involvement in scoring position and a passing-game role that should be scaled back significantly. Even in the late rounds, I've found it difficult to get excited about Forsett as a fantasy pick this season."

"He [Dixon] will compete with Forsett and Allen for the Ravens' starting job and arguably has the best all-around skill set of the bunch. Baltimore's tailback depth chart should be wide open entering camp."

In a recent column, Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun thinks Forsett remains the favorite to lead the backfield:

There is understandable excitement about Dixon, who could be limited or sidelined during the OTAs because of a hamstring injury sustained on his Pro Day. Allen deserves the opportunity to build off his rookie year. And it will be exciting to watch West, who has earned rave reviews for getting himself in top shape this summer, compete with Taliaferro and Richardson for a roster spot. But until he proves otherwise, the Ravens running back conversation starts with Forsett, who should get an opportunity to quiet his doubters one more time.