If there was one thing that defined the Baltimore Ravens’ 2021 season, it was health, or more specifically, lack thereof. Every team deals with injuries in every season, but the Ravens’ squad from a year ago was littered with them, with Lamar Jackson’s bone bruise that ended his season early serving as the exclamation point.
But this is a team that kicked things off by losing all three of their top running backs to season-ending injuries over the course of weeks just before the regular season started, headed by J.K. Dobbins, their very promising second-round draft pick in 2020.
Dobbins suffered a torn ACL on August 28 while playing in the preseason finale against the Washington Commanders. That means, even now, he is only about six months removed from surgery, though of course he still has time before he has to play another meaningful snap.
“J.K., specifically, obviously suffered a serious knee injury, but he’s a young player. He’s a hungry player, he has a great mindset”, general manager Eric DeCosta said at the Combine. “He’s been working very, very hard, and we are very, very confident that he’ll come back and be the type of player that he was two years ago”.
As a rookie in 2020, while working his way up the depth chart (he only ‘started’ one game and played a total of 456 snaps), Dobbins rushed for 805 yards on 134 carries with nine touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes for 120 yards, giving him 925 total yards from scrimmage on 152 touches. He did have some fumbles and some drops, and he was very much a work in progress in the blocking department, but he was clearly a significant asset.
Along with Dobbins, the Ravens also lost Gus Edwards and Justice Hill at running back, leaving the team to turn to free agent veterans to put together a makeshift backfield headed by Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray, a couple of former Pro Bowl running backs who are past their prime. That group even somewhat briefly included former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro Le’Veon Bell.
As had been the case for the previous two years, Jackson was the Ravens’ leading rusher. Even last season, limited to 11-plus games, he rushed for 767 yards and two touchdowns. That does pale in comparison to his usual numbers, which include over 1,000 rushing yards.
But Baltimore should expect to get its backfield back for 2022, likely with an improved and healthier offensive line as well. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, barring similar misfortune, the way the 2021 season ended for the Ravens is likely to be an outlier, falling to under .500 and missing the postseason after losing their final six games.