It’s not hard to imagine the Ravens having one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks next season. Wherever quarterback Lamar Jackson takes the offense, a dominant ground game tends to follow.

But his 2024 supporting cast? That’s harder to call. Jackson will be back to help the Ravens defend their rushing title (2,661 yards). So will running back Justice Hill. And then there’s ... uh ... maybe Keaton Mitchell? The timetable for his recovery from a December ACL tear is uncertain. Gus Edwards is headed to free agency. So is J.K. Dobbins. The Ravens could enter Week 1 next season with almost half of their running back yardage lost to other teams or injured reserve.

“It’s up in the air,” coach John Harbaugh said last week of the Ravens’ offseason approach to the position. “We don’t have a lot of guys under contract right now. ... We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Added general manager Eric DeCosta: “We will definitely have a plan for that position.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Free agency offers one pathway. DeCosta said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last week that there are “some talented players that we will look at” when the legal tampering period opens Monday. But, with limited salary cap space available, who’s a good match?

Here are nine pending free agents, including Edwards and Dobbins, and how they could fit in Baltimore. Players are arranged, from biggest to smallest, by Pro Football Focus’ projected annual value of their contracts.

Saquon Barkley

2023 stats: 962 rushing yards (3.9 per carry), six touchdowns for the New York Giants; 41 catches, 280 yards, four touchdowns

Projected contract: $12 million annually (three years, $36 million)

Why he’d fit: Behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, Barkley quietly turned into one of the league’s most efficient runners over the past two seasons. Only two qualifying running backs averaged at least 0.4 rushing yards over expected per carry in both 2022 and 2023, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats: the Kansas City Chiefs’ Isiah Pacheco and Barkley. The 27-year-old also has value in the passing game, where he can be a high-volume target (139 catches over the past three years) and a reliable pass blocker.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Why he wouldn’t: Do the Ravens really want to pay a premium for a ball carrier with questionable explosive-play potential? Barkley’s best big-play season came in 2022, when he ranked 14th in explosive-run rate (carries of at least 12 yards) among the 42 running backs with at least 100 carries that year, according to TruMedia. Last year, Barkley ranked 25th. There’s also the possibility of a looming performance cliff; in 2021, PFF found that running backs tend to fall off once they hit 1,500 carries and have played five to seven years in the NFL. Barkley has 1,201 career carries and is entering Year 7.

Josh Jacobs

2023 stats: 805 rushing yards (3.5 per carry), six touchdowns for the Las Vegas Raiders; 37 catches, 296 yards

Projected contract: $11 million annually (three years, $33 million)

Why he’d fit: Two years ago, Jacobs earned first-team All-Pro honors after rushing for an NFL-best 1,653 yards. His 400 receiving yards in 2022, meanwhile, are more than any Ravens running back under John Harbaugh has finished with in a single season — besides Ray Rice. Jacobs, 26, has pedigree (first-round pick in 2019), durability (at least 200 carries in five straight seasons) and solid ball security (145 rushes per fumble over his career).

Why he wouldn’t: In 2022, with defenses largely unwilling to drop a safety into the box and leave star Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams on an island, Jacobs saw a lot of light boxes — and punished them accordingly. He led the NFL with 105 carries against six or fewer defenders, according to TruMedia, and finished with a solid 5.4 yards per carry and 48.6% success rate in those scenarios. Last season, Jacobs saw fewer light boxes — and was far less effective: 3.9 yards per carry and a run-of-the-mill 37.5% success rate. It’s hard to imagine the Ravens splurging on a running back with just one recent elite season.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - OCTOBER 01: Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans against the Cincinnati Bengals at Nissan Stadium on October 01, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Derrick Henry has 9,502 rushing yards in an eight-year career. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Derrick Henry

2023 stats: 1,167 yards (4.2 per carry), 12 touchdowns for the Tennessee Titans; 28 catches, 214 yards

Projected contract: $9 million annually (two years, $18 million)

Why he’d fit: His arrival would give the Ravens a nightmare-fueling backfield, pairing one of the NFL’s most elusive quarterbacks with one of its most imposing running backs. Henry, even in his age-29 season, made the most of suboptimal circumstances last season. Among 49 qualifying running backs, he ranked 44th in yards before contact per rush (0.85) — no thanks to the Titans’ dismal offensive line — but eighth in yards after contact per rush (3.32), according to TruMedia. The Ravens saw heavy boxes (eight or more defenders) on just over a third of their carries last season, near the league average; Henry saw them on over half of his carries, one of the NFL’s highest rates. Jackson’s gravitational pull on run defenses, along with the Ravens’ outside weapons, could set Henry up for a huge season.

Why he wouldn’t: Henry has missed more than one game in a season just once over his eight years in the NFL, but his downhill running style and age invite questions about how quickly his durability and elusiveness might evaporate. There’s also the question of schematic fit. Henry averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the past two seasons out of the shotgun — the two most shotgun-heavy seasons of his career, according to Sports Info Solutions — but he spent much of his Tennessee career lining up in under-center formations. Former Titans teammate Taylor Lewan also said recently on his “Bussin’ With The Boys” podcast that Henry wasn’t a fan of read-option and run-pass-option plays. Would he be comfortable in the Ravens’ shotgun- and pistol-heavy offense, with its menu of options and RPOs?

Tony Pollard

2023 stats: 1,005 yards (4.0 per carry), six touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys; 55 catches, 311 yards

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Projected contract: $6.7 million annually (three years, $20 million)

Why he’d fit: Pollard has maybe the most well-rounded skill set of any of the running backs available. He’s an efficient runner, averaging 0.5 rushing yards over expected per carry since 2019, according to NGS, eighth best among the 73 running backs with at least 300 carries in that span. (In 2022, Pollard averaged an elite 1.2 yards over expected per carry.) He’s reliable in pass protection, grading as one of PFF’s top pass-blocking running backs each of the past two years. He’s a steady receiver, with three straight seasons of at least 300 yards. And he almost never fumbles or misses games.

Why he wouldn’t: Pollard, who will turn 27 in April, struggled to live up to his franchise tag billing last season. Over the first half of the season, still seemingly limited by the fibula fracture he suffered in the 2022 playoffs, he averaged a career-low 4 yards per carry and a woeful minus-0.17 expected points added per rush, according to NGS. Over the second half, even as Pollard’s efficiency levels stabilized, his rushing average stagnated. His juice as a receiver was limited, too, as he averaged a career-low 5.7 yards per catch.

D’Andre Swift

2023 stats: 1,049 yards (4.6 per carry), five touchdowns for the Philadelphia Eagles; 39 catches, 214 yards, one touchdown

Projected contract: $6.3 million annually (three years, $18.8 million)

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Why he’d fit: Swift rarely moved backward last season. Playing behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, he ranked 10th among qualifying running backs in the share of rushes that went for zero or negative yardage (16.2%), according to TruMedia. Swift’s also a productive receiving option, though he saw a career-low 49 targets in 2023. Over the past four years, he’s fourth in the NFL among running backs in catches (195) and receiving yards (1,412).

Why he wouldn’t: Swift, 25, has run behind offensive lines ranging from good to great in each of his four seasons, but only once has he averaged more than 4.6 yards per carry. A rich contract would also come with expectations of a regular workload, but last year was Swift’s first in which he averaged more than 12 carries per game. Can he be a workhorse, if needed?

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 23: Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers runs with the ball while being chased by Tyrel Dodson #25 of the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter at SoFi Stadium on December 23, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Austin Ekeler scored 20 touchdowns in 2021 and 18 in 2022, but he had only six last season. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Austin Ekeler

2023 stats: 628 yards (3.5 per carry), five touchdowns for the Los Angeles Chargers; 51 catches, 436 yards, one touchdown

Projected contract: $4.5 million annually (two years, $9 million)

Why he’d fit: Few running backs in Ekeler’s generation have been better receivers. Since 2019, among running backs with at least 100 receptions, he ranks first in receiving yards (3,201), first in catches (374) and second in yards per route run (1.79), according to TruMedia. Only two seasons ago, he finished with a career-high 107 catches for 722 yards and five touchdowns.

Why he wouldn’t: Ekeler has never been a standout runner, and in 2023, on an injury-riddled Chargers offense, his production cratered. Ekeler had just seven carries of at least 10 yards, by far the fewest of his career. His rushing success rate (36.3%) was the worst of his career. His average rushing yards over expected (minus-0.3 per carry) were the second lowest of his career. Ekeler, who will turn 29 in May, seemed a half-step slower. His ball security was a problem, too; for the second straight year, he had five fumbles.

Devin Singletary

2023 stats: 898 yards (4.2 per carry), four touchdowns for the Houston Texans; 30 catches, 193 yards

Projected contract: $4.3 million annually (three years, $12.8 million)

Why he’d fit: Singletary has rushed for at least 800 yards and 4.2 yards per carry for three straight seasons, mixing in explosive runs at a solid clip. His work in Houston last year might’ve been the best of his career. Despite little help from one of the NFL’s worst run-blocking offensive lines, Singletary averaged 1.2 yards more per carry than the Texans’ Week 1 starter, Dameon Pierce (2.9). He also fumbled just once and finished with at least 30 catches for the fourth straight season.

Why he wouldn’t: Singletary’s jack-of-all-trades skill set gives him a high floor, but the Ravens already have a reliable complementary back in Hill. The 26-year-old Singletary has also averaged one fumble for every 80.7 carries, according to TruMedia, one of the NFL’s worst rates since he entered the league in 2019.

Gus Edwards

2023 stats: 810 yards (4.1 per carry), 13 touchdowns; 12 catches, 180 yards

Projected contract: $3.8 million annually (two years, $7.5 million)

Why he’d fit: Edwards was one of the NFL’s best red-zone threats last season. All 13 of his rushing scores came from inside the 10-yard line, and he ranked fourth among qualifying running backs in success rate (66.7%) in that congested area of the field, according to TruMedia. Edwards’ disappointing production was partly tied to his quality of opportunities. He ran into heavy boxes on nearly half of his carries (49%, just behind the Titans’ Henry), yet finished 19th among 49 qualifying running backs in overall success rate.

Why he wouldn’t: Edwards, long one of the NFL’s most bruising runners, was not the run-you-over threat in 2023 that he’d been in years past. He averaged a career-low 2.71 yards after contact per rush, nearly a yard worse than his 2022 mark (3.64) and below the league average for qualifying running backs. With that second-level ability diminished, Edwards had a career-low explosive-run rate of 6.1%, his first year below 9%. He also fumbled a career-high three times and will turn 29 in April.

J.K. Dobbins

2023 stats: 22 yards (2.8 per carry), one touchdown; two catches, 15 yards

Projected contract: $2 million (one-year deal)

Why he’d fit: When healthy, Dobbins has been one of the NFL’s best running backs. Toward the end of the 2022 season, he almost single-handedly elevated a Ravens offense missing Jackson and its top wide receivers. Among running backs with at least 200 carries since 2020, according to NGS, Dobbins ranks tied for first with Cleveland Browns star Nick Chubb in rushing yards over expected per carry (1.2). No other back in that span is even over 0.9. Dobbins is also a runaway first in EPA per carry (0.17); the runner-up, Darrel Williams, averaged 0.04 EPA per carry in that span.

Why he wouldn’t: Injuries, injuries, injuries. Dobbins has played more than eight games in a season just once, as a rookie in 2020. His list of injuries is as long as he is talented. Dobbins tore the ACL, LCL and meniscus in his left knee, along with his hamstring, in the Ravens’ 2021 preseason finale, then underwent arthroscopic surgery on the same knee in 2022. Last season, he tore his left Achilles tendon in Week 1. Dobbins shared footage last week of him jogging, but not even a clean bill of health may be enough to secure the 25-year-old a spot in Baltimore. His heart-on-his-sleeve personality has produced some headline-grabbing callouts of Ravens coaches and officials over the years.

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

More From The Banner