Like Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Kansas City and Jonathan Taylor in Indianapolis, J.K. Dobbins landed on an equally appealing team for fantasy. In a loaded drafted class, the immensely talented Dobbins was still on the board at 55 overall for the Baltimore Ravens. Dobbins broke out as an 18-year-old, ripping up the Big Ten for 1,403 rushing yards and 7.2 YPC as a true freshman. This past year, Dobbins ended a stellar Ohio State career with 2,250 scrimmage yards and 23 TDs on a workhorse-like 324 touches.
HC John Harbaugh said after the draft that Dobbins was the Ravens top-rated back in the class and I believe him. Dobbins is a one-cut runner with explosive burst and his rushing style perfectly meshes with Baltimore’s run-pass option attack. This past year, 57% of Dobbins’ charted carries were RPO rush attempts. No team had more RPO rush attempts in 2019 than the Ravens per Pro Football Reference.
Lamar Jackson and J.K. Dobbins sharing the same backfield won’t be fair. Let’s look at Dobbins’ game through the lens of yards created.
This is what I wrote about Dobbins in my pre-draft report:
“Dobbins was better than Taylor, Edwards-Helaire, Swift, and Akers in yards created per attempt (5.04) and joined Anthony McFarland as the only two backs in the class that grade out significantly above-average at creating yards on both inside (4.48 YC/A) and off-tackle (6.98 YC/A) carries. Dobbins’ vision, anticipation, and footwork is some of the best I have studied over the past five years. Ohio State’s blocking and spread scheme laid an excellent foundation, but Dobbins’ ability to isolate gaps, burst into the second-level, and make defenders miss with his one-cut ability are skills that every NFL team looks for. Jonathan Taylor is the best interior runner in the class, but Dobbins is a very, very close second.
What impresses me most about Dobbins is how balanced his game is. A nearly even amount of Dobbins’ evaded tackles came through elusiveness (38%), power (35%), and speed (27%). Dobbins doesn’t have the start/stop shiftiness that Edwards-Helaire has, but he has rare burst and acceleration.”
Dobbins was consistently creative on his carries, but film study revealed that he certainly benefited from a great scheme and offensive line. Ohio State’s offensive line opened up the 4th-most yards blocked (1.71) as Dobbins saw more open rushing lanes than some of his counterparts. Whereas Cam Akers (30%) and Ke’Shawn Vaughn (27%) were contacted behind the line of scrimmage on over one-quarter of their carries this past season, Dobbins was hit before he crossed the line of scrimmage on just 15% of his carries.
Now, you shouldn’t necessarily knock a running back just because he ran through huge holes more often than others. Dobbins is still a highly instinctive inside runner and he nearly beat Jonathan Taylor (4.52) in yards created per attempt on carries in between the tackles (Dobbins - 4.48 YC/A). To that point, Dobbins does not get enough credit for how shifty he is both behind the line of scrimmage and at the second-level. Dobbins finished tied with Cam Akers for 5th in missed tackles forced per attempt (0.33) in the 2020 class while the remaining top-4 comprised of Edwards-Helaire (0.42), Zack Moss (0.40), D’Andre Swift (0.39), and Anthony McFarland (0.34).
On the ground, Dobbins is a perfect fit for the Ravens. He’s experienced in an RPO scheme, makes quick downhill decisions, and can make defenders miss at the second-level with burst and nimbleness. Our own Greg Cosell was raving about Dobbins’ landing spot on the latest Fantasy Points podcast, saying “I think Dobbins is in the perfect spot because of the nature of that offense. The defense has to play a certain way to deal with Lamar Jackson’s speed (to the perimeter) and holes get created (for the running back)… it couldn’t be a better landing spot.”
Sharing a backfield with Lamar Jackson is like a cheat code for Ravens running backs. Lamar’s speed to the perimeter and ability to throw it over the top makes him the most lethal play-action quarterback in the NFL. Because Jackson is constantly freezing linebackers with his arm and legs, Baltimore backs routinely find themselves with wide-open rushing lanes into the second level. In Jackson’s 24 career starts, his running backs lead the NFL in yards per carry (5.0) and rank second in both rushing success rate and in first downs gained.
Just like at Ohio State, Dobbins is going to rack up yards behind the Ravens offensive line.
Last year, Baltimore was 1st in yards before contact and ranked 3rd behind New Orleans and Dallas in FootballOutsiders’ adjusted offensive line yards. Losing Marshall Yanda hurts, but the Ravens followed up their Dobbins pick by taking two interior offensive linemen in the third and fourth round in Mississippi State’s Tyre Phillips and Michigan Ben Bredeson to hopefully fill Yanda’s shoes.
Dobbins’ breakout party will be partially blocked by Mark Ingram as a rookie, though. Ingram is now 30-years-old, but he was still extremely effective last season. The Ravens were the most run-heavy in the league last season -- they called a run on 58% of plays -- and had the 7th-most RB carries (396), so there is plenty of work to go around for the Ravens to have two fantasy-relevant backs.
However, for 2020 seasonal leagues, my concern is that Baltimore’s backfield will be a little too crowded. Ingram will open Week 1 as the “1A” to Dobbins “1B”, Lamar Jackson will always get his, and Justice Hill will mix in as an occasional change of pace back. Dobbins’ pathway to a rookie breakout is a lot murkier than Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Kansas City and maybe even Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
The story for dynasty leagues is different. Scott Barrett and I are in agreement that Dobbins should be the No. 3 pick off of the board in rookie dynasty drafts behind Edwards-Helaire or Jonathan Taylor. As a staff, we have Dobbins ranked as the RB16 for dynasty leagues right behind Aaron Jones and Kenyan Drake. I’m extremely bullish on Dobbins’ outlook long-term and would personally prefer Dobbins straight up over Jones and Drake on my team.