Ravens aim to keep running game among best in NFL

OWINGS MILLS — The Ravens rely heavily on their running game, so it’s imperative they have playmakers in the backfield.

The Ravens have two running backs under contract — Justice Hill and Keaton Mitchell, whose rookie season ended when he tore his ACL against Jacksonville in Week 15. Mitchell might not be available until midway through the 2024 season.

Gus Edwards. J.K. Dobbins, Melvin Gordon III and Dalvin Cook are unrestricted free agents.

So, general manager Eric DeCosta might have to use the draft to restock the running back room that has been ranked in the top five in the  NFL for the past six years.

“We’ll assess that market, we’ll talk to those guys,” DeCosta said. “We’ll look at the draft, we’ll look at free agency.”

Ravens running back Justice Hill (43) runs the ball against the Houston Texans during the second quarter of a 2024 AFC divisional round game at M&T Bank Stadium. By Tommy Gilligan, USA Today Sports

Hill was one of the team’s unsung heroes and excelled with extended playing time near the end of the season. He finished with 387 yards rushing with three touchdowns on 84 carries. He also caught 28 passes for 206 yards with a score.

Mitchell, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted rookie out of East Carolina, became a breakout player when he ran for 138 yards and a touchdown in his first extensive playing time against the Seahawks on November 5th. He scored on a 40-yard run in the third quarter and added a 60-yard rush late in the game.

Mitchell was poised for another big game against the Jaguars with 73 yards rushing before he was tripped up by a defender and landed awkwardly on his left leg in the fourth quarter. He had to be carted off the field. Mitchell finished the season ranked third on the team with 396 yards rushing in just eight games.

Edwards, who led the running backs with 810 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, could test the free-agent market. He appeared to slow late in the season, but the Ravens would consider re-signing him for a cap-friendly deal.

Dobbins’ NFL career has been derailed by injuries since being selected in the second round of the 2020 draft. He played in 15 games as a rookie, running for 835 yards with nine touchdowns. Dobbins then missed the 2021 season with a knee injury and played in just eight games the following year.

This past season, Dobbins was sidelined for the year after tearing his Achilles in the opener against the Texans.

“I feel like J.K.’s been busting his behind to get back on that field and just show the world what he’s capable of, and to help us out along the way,” Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said after the Texans game. “I spoke highly of him this offseason, just letting everybody know that we really need him. For him to go down with a season-ending injury, that’s just very unfortunate for us.”

There might not be much of a market for the 25-year-old Dobbins because of those injuries. He might be compelled to re-sign a short-term deal with the Ravens because of his familiarity with the franchise and to show that he can stay healthy.

Cook and Gordon were added for depth during the season and their future in Baltimore is murky.

“We’ll see where things kind of lay with Gus [Edwards] and J.K. – both [are] two guys that I have a lot of respect for [and have been] two outstanding players for us over the past three or four years,” DeCosta said.

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