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2021 Ravens Will Flirt with NFL History

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In NFL history, seven duos have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season. It began in 1972 with Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris of the famed Miami Dolphins. Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier of the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers also accomplished the feat in a 14-game season. Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner both cracked 1,000 yards for the 1985 Cleveland Browns.

In 2006, a quarterback got in on the action with Michael Vick joining Warrick Dunn in the 1,000-yard club with the Atlanta Falcons. 2008 and 2009 each featured a pair with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward of the 2008 New York Giants and Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams of the 2009 Carolina Panthers. In 2019, Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram each surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the Baltimore Ravens.

In 2021, Baltimore should become the first team to accomplish the feat in the 17-game era, but they are uniquely positioned to make even more history and have a trio of 1,000-yard rushers.

Baltimore Ravens Rushing Trio

Candidate No.1: Lamar Jackson

The 2019 NFL MVP is as close to a lock as it can get if the Ravens have a runner that cracks 1,000 yards. In his 37 starts, Jackson averaged 74.8 rushing yards per game, a mark that extrapolates out to 1,272 in a 17-game season. Jackson eclipsed 1,000 yards in both 2019 and 2020 in just 15 games, and he had a 79.4 yard per game pace in his seven 2018 starts.

With a 17th game, Jackson only has to average 58.8 yards per game to crack 1,000. Jackson has 25 career regular-season games with 60 or more rushing yards including eight games with 100 yards. Jackson will have the lowest floor of the Ravens’ backs, but he should offset his lower output games with a pair of 100-yard games at some point in the season.

Likelihood: 90%. Barring injury, Jackson is the most likely Raven to crack 1,000 yards.

Candidate No.2: J.K. Dobbins

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – DECEMBER 20: Running back J.K. Dobbins #27 of the Baltimore Ravens carries the ball in for a touchdown during the second quarter of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Bank Stadium on December 20, 2020, in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

The 2020 second-round pick likely would have gotten to 1,000 yards had he been ahead of Ingram in the early-season depth chart. J.K. Dobbins had just 16 carries in Baltimore’s first games despite rushing for 7.88 yards per carry. In the final 10 games he played, he had 10 carries in eight games, averaging 12.4 per game after in the final five games. Even on fairly limited snaps (11.8 rushes per game over the last 10 games), Dobbins plowed ahead for 5.75 yards per carry and 67.9 yards per game. Over a 16-game season, Dobbins would have run for 1,086 yards on 189 carries.

As mentioned with Jackson, Dobbins would have to average 58.8 yards per game to hit 1,000 yards over a 17-game season. In the 15 games that Dobbins played, he surpassed 60 yards in six games, including five of the last six games. In that stretch, Dobbins would have been on pace for more than 1,400 rushing yards.

Likelihood: 80%. Dobbins should be the lead back for Baltimore. He should follow in the footsteps of 2019 Ingram and eclipse 1,000 yards.

Candidate No.3: Gus Edwards

Like Jackson and Dobbins, Gus Edwards ended 2020 on an incredible tear which bodes well moving forward. In his last 50 carries, Edwards posted 337 yards for an otherworldly 6.74 yards per carrying. Extrapolated out into a full season, Edwards would have amassed 1,078 yards. Edwards has rarely been the focal point of the Baltimore rushing attack, featuring for 10 carries in back-to-back games just three times in the last two seasons, but his snap-to-snap efficiency opens the door to massive rushing yardage without much volume.

The best stretch of Edwards’ career came in 2018 when he racked up 654 yards across the final seven games of the season (5.36 yards per attempt). Across a full 17-game season, Edwards would have posted 1,588 yards. This run occurred while Dobbins was in college and the Ravens passing offense was virtually nonexistent, but the 122 carries represent the most concentrated section of Edwards’ career.

Likelihood: 10%. Edwards, while productive, is unlikely to be the focal point of the Baltimore offense with any consistency. He is likely to end between 700 and 800 rushing yards barring injury to Dobbins.

Cause for Optimism

There have been eight games that a player ran for 100 yards on 10 or fewer carries. Edwards has a pair, and Jackson has a pair. If there is any team in the NFL that can operate at ridiculous levels of efficiency, it would be Baltimore. Baltimore has run for 5.53 yards per carry as a team in each of the last two seasons, the top two marks since the merger. Edwards has averaged 5.2 yards per carry for his career over 414 carries. Dobbins averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his rookie season (134 carries). Jackson led the NFL in yards per carry in both 2019 and 2020, and he has a career of 6.0 yards per carry mark (482 carries).

While this outcome is unlikely to happen organically, Baltimore is in a unique position to have a last-season surge if a player is within striking distance of a milestone. For example, Jackson rattled off 97 yards in the final game of 2020, a game the Ravens won by 35. In most cases, Jackson likely would have had limited carries, but he was given enough to break 1,000 yards again. In that Week 17 game, Baltimore tallied 54 runs to just 19 passes, running for 404 yards, the most in an NFL game since 2000 and the second-most since the inception of the Super Bowl.

The presence of the 404-yard game as well as the absurd efficiency that Baltimore operated with in the last five games of the season opens the plausibility of Baltimore having three 1,000-yard rushers.

Cause for Pessimism

Even with a 17th game, the logistics of getting three runners to 1,000 yards is bordering on maniacal. In 2019, Baltimore’s top three rushers combined for 2,935 yards, 89% of Baltimore’s total 3,296 yards. In 2020, Baltimore’s top three rushers combined for 2,533 yards, 82.5% of Baltimore’s 3,071 yards. Even if one spreads Ingram’s yards to the top three rushers, the percentage lies at 92.2%. For Baltimore’s top three runners to combine for 3,000 rushing yards, they would need to suffer no injuries and account for approximately 30% each of a record-breaking rushing total by the team in general.

The 3,000 mark for the team’s top three rushers is conceivable, Baltimore fell just 65 yards shy of the mark in 2019, and they would have an extra game to accomplish it under new rules, but having such an even spread seems unlikely. At a certain point, there would be a risk that all three come close but each fails to hit the mark. This happened to the 1973 Cincinnati Bengals as Boobie Clark (988) and Essex Johnson (997) came within 20 yards of 1,000, but neither hit the mark itself. (However, that was in a 14-game season, both players would have comfortably cleared 1,000 in the 17-game season).

Verdict:

If there was any team in the NFL with the personnel to do this seemingly impossible task, it would be Baltimore. Baltimore has had three 700-yard rushers in each of the last two seasons. Baltimore is likely to surpass 3,000 rushing yards for the third-straight season, so if Jackson, Dobbins, and Edwards account for a large enough portion of the total, the record would be in play.

In 2020, all three players ranked within the top 21 in rushing yards despite both Jackson and Dobbins missing a game. However, after both players returned, Baltimore had a five-game stretch in which all three runners were on pace for 1,000 yards in a 16-game season (let alone 17 games). While it would be incredibly difficult for Baltimore to sustain this pace over a full season, the small sample size does exist.

Predictions:

Lamar Jackson: 170 carries, 1,020 rushing yards (6.0 yards per carry)

J.K. Dobbins: 200 carries, 1,160 rushing yards (5.8 yards per carry)

Gus Edwards: 150 carries, 750 rushing yards (5.0 yards per carry)

Ravens as a Team: 580 carries, 3,130 rushing yards (5.4 yards per carry)

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – DECEMBER 12: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after a touchdown in the first quarter of the game against the New York Jets at M&T Bank Stadium on December 12, 2019, in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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Thanks for reading my article on the 2021 Ravens rushing offense. For more content, follow me @mrsplashman19 and follow the OTH Football page.

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Ryan Potts is an avid football and baseball fan. He covers the NFL and Major League Baseball, focusing on the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Braves.