The Pittsburgh Steelers believe that they drafted their running back of the future earlier this year in Alabama’s Najee Harris. The Baltimore Ravens believe they already found theirs last year in the second round in J.K. Dobbins. But the beauty is that they still won’t have to pay him for a while—assuming that they do. They are able to use that money elsewhere.
And they did that yesterday. While the headline-grabbing story was the signing of injured former Denver Broncos tackle Ja’Wuan James, who may not play at all this year, the Ravens also signed running fourth-year running back Gus Edwards to a two-year contract extension through the 2023 season worth $10 million, including $3.75 million guaranteed as a signing bonus.
Edwards was originally undrafted out of Rutgers in 2018, Lamar Jackson’s rookie season. He spent much of that year on the practice squad. Baltimore called him up around the time Jackson replaced Joe Flacco in the starting lineup. The running back has been one of the most efficient runners in the NFL since.
He is averaging 5.2 yards per carry over the course of his three-year career, putting up 2,152 rushing yards on 414 attempts with 10 touchdowns. He scored a season-high six last season. His presence provides the Ravens with a very legitimate second option behind Dobbins, who himself had a strong rookie season in 2020.
The Ohio State product only started one game last year. He put up 805 rushing yards on only 134 rushes, averaging six yards per carry, including nine rushing touchdowns. Unlike Edwards, he can also present a threat in the passing game, a skill he will likely develop over time.
Of course, their success has a lot to do with Jackson himself. Jackson rushed for over 1,000 yards as a quarterback in each of the past two seasons, essentially rewriting our perceptions of what a runner from that position could accomplish. Any runner would benefit from playing with him.
They have also been diligent in prioritizing run-blocking, including along the offensive line. This year, the line is shaping up to consist of Ronnie Stanley, Bradley Bozeman, Kevin Zeitler, Alejandro Villanueva, and then a competition for left guard, which may be won by rookie Ben Cleveland. Fellow Bens, Bredeson and Powers, are also in the fight. As is Tyre Phillips, who started eight games last year.
One thing Baltimore has done in recently years is routinely commit to running the football, and investing the resources in their ability to do that. An extension for Edwards as their number two back on an affordable deal is a sensible move for the Ravens. It helps ensure at least a couple more years of consistency.