J.K. Dobbins admitted last year that he isn’t always the most patient person. As someone who carried the ball more than 700 times at Ohio State, he is not accustomed to being anything other than the featured back and consistent star.
So when he was drafted by a Ravens team that already featured two 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Mark Ingram, Dobbins knew that he might have to wait his turn. Through his first five games as a rookie, Dobbins totaled just 16 carries.
By the end of the year, though, his rise to the top of the Ravens’ depth chart was essentially complete. Ingram’s role slid to ceremonial starter and then essentially vanished altogether, with Dobbins and reliable Gus Edwards forming a potent 1-2 tandem to complement the singularly talented Jackson.
Edwards led all Ravens running backs in carries (144, for 723 yards), earning the former undrafted back a contract extension this offseason.
But it was Dobbins who ascended rapidly as the season progressed. Dobbins finished the year with 134 carries for 805 yards, including 160 in a romp against the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular-season finale. Dobbins led all NFL backs in yards per carry (6.0) and set a Ravens rookie record with nine touchdowns. He scored at least once in each of the final six regular-season games.
As he wrapped up the first on-field OTAs of his brief career last week, though, Dobbins said he isn’t about to get comfortable with his increased role in this three-headed monster of a rushing attack.
“I am working like I didn’t get drafted,” Dobbins said, “like I’m not even on the team, like I’m a guy off the streets … working for a spot. So that’s how I’m approaching it.”
Dobbins also said he’s driven by “a little fuel” coming from Pro Football Focus ranking him as the 26th-best back entering the 2021 season.
“I don’t think I’m 26th, but I love that,” he said. “That gives me room to improve. I’ve got to prove people wrong.”
Improvements in the running game don’t always show up in the noncontact nature of OTA workouts, but Dobbins’ emphasis as a pass catcher was on full display.
Dobbins finished his rookie year with 18 catches for 120 yards, but he dropped four of 24 targets, according to Pro Football Reference, and also had a couple of drops in the playoff loss to Buffalo.
His evolution to a complete, three-down back will depend on cleaning up that part of the game. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has said that he expects Dobbins to be more involved as a receiver, and he certainly was during OTA workouts.
Dobbins caught swing passes out of the backfield, he ran down the seam and caught a deep ball, and he even went high over linebacker and former Ohio State teammate Malik Harrison for a highlight-reel end-zone grab.
“I can catch the ball a little bit,” Dobbins said with a grin. “I know I had a few mistakes last year, but this year I’ve been working on eliminating those mistakes, even the little mistakes. I’m perfecting my craft and making sure I’m ready at all times to catch the ball.”
The Ravens have spent this offseason trying to upgrade their passing game, drafting Rashod Bateman in the first round and signing former first-round receiver Sammy Watkins. But the Ravens remain a run-first offense, and Dobbins figures to be integral part of whatever success the Ravens enjoy in 2021.
“I feel like I’m locked and loaded,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”
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