The stakes were high for Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins entering the 2023 season. Dobbins had to play for a new contract at one of the most disposable positions in the NFL. To obtain the lucrative deal and financial security he wanted, he had to show the Ravens he could stay on the field and put together a valuable stretch of production.
This is why teammates didn’t envy him when asked throughout camp about his bizarre situation with the team. They didn’t hold it against him when he decided to play it safe and sit out mandatory minicamp, plus the first few weeks of training camp, to stay healthy. Unfortunately, his season ended after just three quarters, as he tore his Achilles making a catch near the right sideline in the 25-9 win over the Houston Texans in Week 1.
So, where do the Ravens go from here? They have been in a similar situation before when they lost Dobbins for the 2021 season because of the ACL injury he suffered in the preseason against Washington. It doesn’t sound like the Ravens will make a significant move, such as a blockbuster trade for Colts running back Jonathan Taylor or signing a free agent such as Leonard Fournette or Kareem Hunt.
Instead, the Ravens will start out relying on the top two veteran backs on their roster: Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. The latter of the two scored twice against the Texans filling in for Dobbins.
“We can make plays,” Edwards said to reporters Wednesday. “I bring a physical aspect; Justice is more speed and agility. I’m excited for him too because I know he’s primed to have a good year. He’s been working his tail off, too, I’m excited to see what he does.”
“I’m very confident in the guys we have stepping in there as well,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We have very good players stepping in, and they’re excited for their opportunity.”
The Ravens will elevate veteran Melvin Gordon from the practice squad, too. Although Gordon, 30, isn’t the same back he was early in his career in San Diego and Los Angeles, he can still be a valuable threat at the goal line and can lend experience to the group. His signing and placement on the practice squad were in case an injury to Dobbins or Edwards occurred. He certainly figures to be in the mix at some point.
“Melvin’s here for a reason,” Harbaugh said. “Certainly didn’t expect it to be this quick, [but] that’s why he’s here. That’s why he wanted to stay here, I think, because he likes it here. He likes the offense, and he likes the environment. … He’s a proven back. I’m very, very glad he’s here.”
Undrafted rookie free agent Keaton Mitchell could be a factor once he returns from a shoulder injury he sustained in the preseason. Mitchell is eligible to return in Week 5.
Dobbins is by far the most game-changing running back the Ravens have. His presence will be missed, but the Ravens have confidence they can put together a successful ground game with the group they have.
“We love our backs, “Harbaugh said. “We love all of our guys, and it’s just nowadays, in the NFL, a lot of guys have to play. That’s pretty clear, and you roll guys, you play personnel groups, there’s a lot of strategy to it, and every single guy on your roster has to be able to win for you as a starter. So you pretty much consider all the guys starters, really. [I’m] just being truthful about it. They all have to be able to play that well. They’re on the team for a reason. It’s because they’re good enough to do it, and all those backs are going to play quite a bit.”
Dobbins has had an unfathomable stretch of injuries on his rookie contract. Since entering the league in 2020, he’s dealt with a torn ACL, LCL, meniscus, hamstring injury and now a torn Achilles. He’s played only 24 of 67 potential games in his career.
The response from Dobbins’ teammates after the game says everything about the person he is in the Ravens locker room. Linebacker Patrick Queen was emotional talking about him. Like Dobbins, Queen is in a contract year so understands the decision he made.
“That guy is a good brother of mine,” Queen said. “It hurts to see that type of stuff happen to somebody so good. [He’s] just a good person [and] good athlete. Obviously, you have to just keep going on; it’s just tough. I just ask that everybody prays for him, pray for his mental [state]. … Stuff like that, that’s why he went in the situation that he went. It’s just tough. It just hurts, honestly. It hurts a lot.”
Based on how Harbaugh has talked about Dobbins this week, it seems like the Ravens will have him back next year. It likely won’t be anywhere near the contract he once hoped to receive — any new deal would likely be loaded with incentives and be short term — but teammates love him and bringing him back isn’t out the question. That said, it wouldn’t be shocking if he wants a change of scenery after his horrid luck in Baltimore.