The Ravens were dealt another harsh blow this offseason, this time losing promising young running back Kenneth Dixon to a season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Dixon was set to start the 2017 season with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on PEDs. Following that suspension, however, Dixon looked like a guy the Ravens could rely heavily on and potentially be the next great Ravens’ running back.
Dixon had it all: vision, elusiveness, solid hands as a receiving back. The list goes on and on. Draft fans will recall that he was viewed by some analysts, including yours truly, as the second best running back available in the 2016 draft. He was undoubtedly behind Ezekiel Elliott and was argued a better prospect than guys like Paul Perkins or even the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.
Overall, this is a tough blow to the Ravens; and now they are faced with plenty of questions. What will the Ravens do about their running back situation? Will a veteran running back be added to provide depth? How will carries be distributed? Would it be worth it to wait for the promising 2018 running back draft class?
And of course, to all of our fantasy football fans, “What the hell am I supposed to do about Dixon’s injury?”
Fret not, everyone. I have answers to all of these questions.
What will the Ravens do about their running back situation?
Ozzie Newsome may look at the team’s current running back stable and roll the dice with the guys he already has. Between Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Javorius Allen as the “top” guys, it doesn’t inspire much confidence from a fan’s perspective. Each of them brings something to the table, however. West showed last year that he can be the team’s lead back, albeit with a low ceiling. Woodhead, when healthy, is arguably the league’s best receiving back, and will provide quarterback Joe Flacco with a safety valve out of the backfield. Lorenzo Taliaferro is a massive man who can get goal-line carries and may even get a roster spot as the team’s fullback. Javorius Allen also has good receiving skills and also provides the team with quality special teams play. All of them could provide the Ravens with some form of impact, but none of them have very high ceilings. Which brings us to our next question:
Will a veteran running back be added to provide depth?
This should be a definitive “yes”. I expect Ozzie Newsome to add at least one veteran running back in free agency to compete for reps throughout the preseason. This will provide the team with more options to evaluate and the preseason will allow the team to look at numerous out-of-house candidates to make the roster and receive carries. Unfortunately, as of writing this, the free agency pool for running backs is very slim pickings, with guys like DeAngelo Williams and Rashad Jennings being the “top options” available. Both running backs are over the dreaded age 30 mark and do not provide very high upside. Both should expect to hear phone calls from Baltimore and be brought in for a workout, at a minimum. Expect the Ravens to avidly be searching for a veteran to come in and compete for a roster spot.
Terrance West handled 54% of the Ravens carries last year (WITH Forsett/Dixon in mix). He’s an early-down workhorse as the roster stands.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) July 26, 2017
How will carries be distributed?
This is a question that won’t be fully answered until we see the final 53-man roster. As it stands now, Terrance West looks like the only “good” option currently on the Ravens’ roster as far as a pure rusher goes. Taliaferro may be a big body, but he relies on contact to pick up yards (career 4.1 YPC) and has seen just 14 carries since 2014. Danny Woodhead and Javorius Allen are both highly questionable runners and are much better options as receivers out of the backfield. Factor in those three’s health problems, and you’re left with Terrance West. As previously stated, West isn’t a terrible option, but his upside is seriously capped. And I’m not sure if I am comfortable giving West 220+ carries over 16 games.
Nick Chubb slips through the narrow hallway with burst and carries defenders into the 2nd level pic.twitter.com/4JVghBP92l
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) July 26, 2017
Would it be worth it to wait for the promising 2018 running back draft class?
Absolutely. Between headliners Saquon Barkley of Penn State and Derrius Guice of LSU, the 2018 running back class looks loaded. If the Ravens were to pick in the top 10 of the 2018 draft, whether it be due to injuries, a terrible offense, tanking, or all of the above, they would be in contention for one of those two guys. If the Ravens opted to play out the 2017 season and do the best they can, there are guys to be had in the middle of the first round who would fit their value. The first name that comes to mind is Georgia’s Nick Chubb. And finally, if the Ravens somehow played out of their mind and made it to the playoffs, there are running backs to be had in the 20s that would fit their value. ASU’s Kalen Ballage is this year’s sleeping giant and then there’s media darling Bo Scarbrough from Alabama. And if they choose to wait until the mid-to-late rounds, you guessed it, there are guys to be had that fit their value. Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Alabama’s Damien Harris, USC’s Ronald Jones, Ohio State’s Mike Weber, and Georgia’s Sony Michel are just a few of the names that make up this class.
What the hell am I supposed to do about Dixon’s injury?
To everyone who drafted before the preseason and spent a pick on Kenneth Dixon, my deepest apologies. I, myself, am one of those people, and I’ll be the first to say that it is definitely a tough blow. Dixon fans were likely counting on a breakout year for the former Louisiana Tech Bulldog after he showed as a rookie the playmaking ability to be a consistent fantasy option. He scored touchdowns, he caught passes, he created yards with his vision and cutting ability. He did it all. What a bummer it is to lose such a talented young man.
Now, what are you to do? First off, drop Dixon. He isn’t worth a spot on your roster. I am aware that his recovery time is 4-5 months, which means he could return for the fantasy playoffs. But, he would a) be fresh off a major surgery b) have to assert himself back at the top of the depth chart and c) still have to face his four-game suspension. So AT BEST, Dixon would see 2-3 games in 2017 and likely be a complete non-factor. Instead, try and grab Danny Woodhead. Without Dixon there to steal targets, Woodhead’s value has gone way up. We’ve seen in the past that Woodhead can be a fantasy darling, particularly in PPR formats. Woodhead will be a dump off guy and could even see some time in the slot. IF he plays 16 games, and that is a big fat IF, Woodhead could see upwards of 75-80 receptions. He is worth the risk.
Now, if you’re in a big league, like 12+ teams, try and get Terrance West. Odds are, he was probably drafted. But if he wasn’t, try and scoop him up. Like I mentioned earlier, there isn’t much competition for rushing attempts and he could see a high volume of touches. Remember, the Ravens just brought in Greg Roman as the team’s senior offensive assistant and Roman LOVES to run the football. That bodes well for West owners. He could easily see 220+ carries as the number one guy in 16 games. He managed 1,000 scrimmage yards in 2016 and could easily do it again with a heavier workload in 2017.
Fret not, Ravens fans and fantasy football nuts, all is not lost. To the Ravens hopeful, trust in Ozzie Newsome. He will deliver and always has a plan in store for the Ravens. To the fantasy footballers, Dixon’s injury may be a big blow, but your season is not over. In fact, it’s not even close to being over. Do what I mentioned above and ALWAYS be active on that waiver wire.
From myself and the entire Breaking Football staff, we send our thoughts and good wishes out to Kenneth Dixon and we all wish him a speedy recovery!