Longtime ESPN NFL reporter Sal Paolantonio, who correctly predicted that the Ravens would take a running back in the early rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, says Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins was exactly the kind of player Baltimore needed and opined that no team had a better draft than the Ravens.
Before the draft, Paolantonio said he thought the Ravens’ No. 1 priority should be beefing up their running back depth after the team struggled in the divisional round of the playoffs with top back Mark Ingram less than 100 percent. He concluded that he’d be “blown away” if Baltimore didn’t take a running back early.
The Ravens ended up taking Dobbins in the second round with the No. 55 overall pick. Paolantonio explained why he thought before the draft that the Ravens would go running back early.
“I talked to Eric DeCosta, and DeCosta told me on the record that he thought there six or seven running backs in this draft that could go in the first three rounds and be plug-in-and-play players,” Paolantonio said on Glenn Clark Radio April 27. “He said that to me after I asked him, ‘Well, you know, if Mark Ingram is not hurt, you beat Tennessee. Don’t you have to go out and get another running back to make sure you have a viable, reliable, young, fast runner to go behind Mark Ingram?’ No one’s suggesting he’s going to replace Mark Ingram, but boy oh boy, they landed the No. 1 back in many draft guides.”
From 2017-2019, the 5-foot-9, 209-pound Dobbins accumulated 4,459 yards and 38 touchdowns on 725 carries while catching 71 passes for 645 yards and five scores. He had his best year with the Buckeyes in 2019, running for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns. Dobbins went 38-4 during his three-year stint at Ohio State.
The Ravens posted a league-record 3,296 rushing yards in 2019, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson (1,206) and running backs Ingram (1,018), Gus Edwards (711) and Justice Hill (225). All four are scheduled to return, but if last year was any indication, there’ll be plenty of carries to go around. Baltimore piled up 596 carries, easily a league high.
Paolantonio says it was vital for the Ravens to bring in another high-quality back to pair with Ingram so the offense can keep on trucking even if one is banged up. Paolantonio called Dobbins a “super powerful, very maneuverable back.”
“I think he’s got an elite level jump cut,” Paolantonio said. “Because he’s short, he vanishes in the hole. Terrific anticipation and vision to cut back, which is exactly what you need in that offense, and when you run the ball as much as they did – the most rushing attempts in the NFL – you’ve got to have somebody. Listen, you know I love the Ravens, but I’m just going to say this. If Mark Ingram’s not hurt, they’re going to the Super Bowl.”
Paolantonio also felt the Ravens added to their offense by drafting Texas wide receiver Devin Duvernay in the third round with the No. 92 overall pick. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Duvernay broke out in 2019 by catching 106 passes for 1,386 yards and nine touchdowns. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Duvernay joins a wide receiver group that features Marquise Brown, Willie Snead and Miles Boykin. Though the Ravens led the NFL in scoring offense (33.2 points per game), they could stand to get their receivers more involved in the offense. Just 115 of Baltimore’s 289 receptions a year were by receivers.
Paolantonio said the Ravens needed to give Jackson help by bringing in receivers who are adept at running option routes in the middle of the field — and now Duvernay and possibly sixth-round pick James Proche are available to operate out of the slot. The Ravens ran a tight-end-centric offense in 2019, but sending Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons and adding two slot receivers in the draft could signify a bit of a philosophical shift.
“I would like to see them get another tight end. I don’t know where it’s going to come from, but maybe they’re going to change their approach a little bit and do some things more like what the Patriots do, which is two tight ends and rely on a slot receiver more to get open in the middle,” Paolantonio said. “When you go back on film, I think the biggest knock on their team was in the passing game, they didn’t control the middle of the field between the hash marks, and that forced your quarterback to hold the ball more when he was trying to throw it.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens emphasized the front seven, picking two defensive linemen and two linebackers. Prior to the draft, Baltimore had just three inside linebackers under contract (L.J. Fort, Otaro Alaka and Chris Board) making the position one of particular need heading into the draft. The Ravens took LSU’s Patrick Queen and Ohio State’s Malik Harrison to address the linebacker position.
Paolantonio loved the Queen pick. The 6-foot, 229-pound Queen had 85 tackles, including 13 for loss, with the Tigers in 2019 and has a reputation for excelling in coverage. Queen figures to be able to contribute right away, as does Dobbins.
“They picked two players who are culture fits, scheme fits, attitude fits, execution fits,” Paolantonio said. “We don’t know how long the offseason’s going to be, whether it’s going to be an abbreviated training camp. We don’t know. You got two players who can put their helmet on right away and just through virtual study and workout can play. That’s pretty significant considering where the team was last year and the fact that Eric DeCosta was drafting 28th overall in the first round. That’s pretty significant. To me, I don’t see any team that had a better draft than the Ravens.”
For more from Paolantonio, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics