There's an awful lot of excitement in the Fantasy football community for J.K. Dobbins, who enters his second season in the NFL as the lead back in the best rushing offense in the NFL. But, with Gus Edwards signing a two-year extension with the Ravens and offensive coordinator Greg Roman saying he's going to use a "running group by committee," should we be tempering expectations for the talented youngster?
There's a lot to like about both Dobbins as a player and his situation in Baltimore, and in NFC drafts since the start of May, he's been the No. 16 RB off the board on average, right around pick 25. That's not an exorbitant price to pay, but it does mean you might be passing on the likes of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Miles Sanders, David Montgomery, Josh Jacobs, and Chris Carson to add him to your team. Which is to say, there's definitely an opportunity cost to chasing Dobbins. Is it worth it?
The case for Dobbins is pretty straightforward: He's an awesome player in a very good offense. Dobbins averaged 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie and scored eight touchdowns in his final eight games, including the playoffs. He ranked fourth in the NFL in yards after contact per rush attempt and has legitimate breakaway speed -- an absolutely lethal combination of big-play ability and tackle-breaking.
And he plays in an offense that makes any running backs' life easier -- Lamar Jackson's rushing ability and the read-option runs create huge holes, and a very good offensive line makes those holes even bigger. While Dobbins' 6.0 yards per carry stands out, all Ravens running backs have averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the last two seasons with 31 rushing touchdowns. There's little question in my mind that Dobbins is going to be an incredibly efficient running back in this offense.
Of course, it's worth noting that, for all this offense has going for it in the running game, they've produced just the 13th-most PPR points for running backs over the last two seasons. If you're looking for someone to blame for that, look at Jackson, who has accounted for 2,211 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns over that span, at least some of which could have conceivably gone to a running back. Add in that his scrambling ability means he rarely looks for his running backs in the passing game, and that's how you end up with the best running game in the NFL ranking close to the middle of the pack in RB Fantasy points:
RB FPTS (2019-20)
That's not an inherently bad thing, necessarily -- the Titans are surprisingly just 11th in that regard. However, while Derrick Henry dominates the Titans RB touches -- he has 79.3% of their RB Fantasy points over that span -- the Ravens have never focused heavily on one running back. Over the last two seasons, there have been just 12 instances of a Ravens running back having 15 or more carries in a game. And, as mentioned before, Roman has already talked about how that's going to continue in 2021.
"While we've got some tremendous, what I would call highly underrated, talent at running back — and I include Gus Edwards in that, and I'm really excited about how Justice Hill is maturing as a pro — I feel really good about the stable we got," Roman said recently. "We're going to use all of them. We're not a one-trick pony at running back."
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, and the Ravens confirmed their commitment to Edwards Monday when they announced a two-year extension worth $10 million. That isn't a huge sum of money, but it's also not negligible for the RB position -- it's the 20th largest deal for any running back right now and it would be the 13th highest if you included his 2021 salary. Edwards has at least 133 carries in each of his three seasons with the Ravens and he's not going anywhere.
Dobbins will be the lead back, sure, just like he was from Week 8 on as a rookie, when he played at least 50% of the team's snaps in six of nine games (eight of 11 if you include the playoffs). He was excellent in those nine games, putting up a 1,157-yard, 12-touchdown pace. With those numbers, he would have been … RB26 for the season at 13.2 PPR points per game.
If you include the playoffs, Dobbins had 128 carries and 11 receptions in those 11 games as the lead back; In those same 11 games, Edwards had 105 carries and nine receptions. That's not quite an even split, but it's a lot closer than you should feel comfortable with if you're going to take Dobbins as a high-end RB2 in 2021.
Maybe you think the split will be less even in 2021 now that Dobbins has a year under his belt. Hey, I agree! I've got Dobbins with 261.4 carries in my projections while Edwards is getting 154.1. That actually puts Dobbins just ahead of that 15-carry threshold on a per-game basis, which is pretty aggressive given how Baltimore has used their running backs. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they recognize, as we all do, that Dobbins is the best option they've had in the Jackson era. They'll use him more. Even with that assumption, he's RB22 for me.
However, Dobbins' path to an elite Fantasy season is extremely narrow unless the Ravens change their approach to RB usage dramatically. Unless they start giving Dobbins closer to 20 carries per game or start featuring their RB more in the passing game -- just 144 targets to RB over the last two seasons combined -- Dobbins is going to need outlier TD production to finish as an RB1. Ingram managed it in 2019, finishing as RB11, but he needed five receiving touchdowns on just 26 catches to get there. Even during that season-ending stretch where he scored seven touchdowns in six games from Week 11 through Week 17, Dobbins ranked 13th in PPR points per game at the position.
Which is all to say, while Dobbins skill set and the offense he's in may make you think he's got huge upside that makes him worth reaching for, he's probably more of a safe play than a huge upside guy. Dobbins should get 12-17 carries pretty much every week, and he'll always have a good chance to find the end zone. But without a realistic possibility of those seven-catch or 25-carry games, the weekly upside is tied to touchdowns and big plays -- rare, unpredictable events, in other words.
There's a lot to like about Dobbins, but for Fantasy, it's hard to get around the math problem he faces in Baltimore's offense. As a solid RB2, he's going to be good to have around, but if you're shooting for upside, Edwards-Helaire and Najee Harris are better options in that range of drafts, while the wide receivers likely available at the two-three turn figure to be even better.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.