Fantasy Football Profile: Baltimore Ravens Backfield Has Value
There are always a few tough decisions to make in your league’s draft, and like the one we’re about to talk about, you’ll have to make that decision with little-to-no knowledge of what’s actually going to take place. Fortunately, you have people such as myself who sit in front of a computer all day in order to figure out as much as humanly possible. By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding about what’s going to take place in the Ravens backfield in 2017.
The Cost of Each Guy
Looking at recent average draft position (ADP), veteran Danny Woodhead costs you a late seventh-round pick, sophomore Kenneth Dixon costs you an early ninth-round pick, while Terrance West brings up the caboose as a mid-12th round pick. There may very well be value for each and every one of them, but we aren’t here to hear that, we want to know which one will return the biggest return on our investment.
The Sophomore Kenneth Dixon
After the 2016 season, head coach John Harbaugh came out and gave praise to Dixon, saying that Dixon “proved himself” and that he “can break a lot of tackles.” He went on to say that he is a fan of Kenneth Dixon, the player and the person. Those comments were before learning about Dixon’s four game suspension, but here’s a quote from Harbaugh after the suspension:
“I think he’s going to be a really good player. He wants to be good. He made a mistake. Not a mistake that he’s very proud of. But I think he’s going to put it behind him, and he’s going to be a really good back in this league.”
Looking at Dixon’s rookie year, it’s easy to see why Harbaugh is excited about him. On his 88 carries, Dixon broke an amazing 26 tackles, which amounts to one every 3.38 carries. Looking at the rest of the league, there wasn’t a single running back who averaged one any less than once every 4.48 carries (minimum 85 carries). He also ranked top-15 in terms of broken tackles per reception.
Dissecting his game logs a bit closer, you can see a trend between him and teammate West. After looking spry in the Ravens preseason averaging 4.9 yards per carry, Dixon went down with a MCL tear that caused him to miss the first four games of the season. Even upon returning, Dixon was wearing a massive brace and saw just 15 carries in his first four games back, totaling a brutal 1.53 yards per carry. But after that, Dixon started to turn into the player they’d hoped.
From Week 10 through Week 17, Dixon totaled 359 yards on 73 carries (4.92 yards per carry) with two touchdowns, while hauling in 25 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown. He was never fully trusted during this time, as his season-high was just 13 carries, while West had totaled that number or more six times. This may have been because of him being a rookie, as we’ve never seen the Harbaugh lean heavily on a rookie. Here’s the list of skill position players drafted by the Ravens over the last five years (outside of Dixon): Chris Moore, Keenan Reynolds, Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, Javorius Allen, Nick Boyle, Darren Waller, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Michael Campanaro, Kyle Juszczyk, and Aaron Mellette. None of them made even close to the impact that Dixon did in his rookie year.
On the flip side, West is someone who struggled beyond the first six games of the season. As a matter of fact, there was a three-game stretch where West really made his impression. From Week 4 through Week 6 (while Dixon was out/injured), West totaled 295 yards on 55 carries with three touchdowns. But we really just want to break down where things changed, and that was right as Dixon started to make his move.
When asked about West this offseason, Harbaugh was a bit less complimentary, saying “Terrance has done a great job… I know he’s working hard. I’m excited to see how he does.” He did a fine job filling in last year when nobody else wanted to step up, but you can’t forget that this is his third NFL team in just three years. He’s the definition of “just a guy,” totaling 1,678 yards on 426 carries (3.93 yards per carry) with nine touchdowns.
The Wildcard Danny Woodhead
And the final completely unknown piece to this puzzle is Danny Woodhead, who was one of the first free agents signed this offseason. He fits what the Ravens want to do on offense, as they’ve targeted their running backs more than any team outside of the Saints and Lions. Not to mention the fact that they’ve lost Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Kyle Juszczyk, and Dennis Pitta this offseason, which amounts to 321 targets. They recently added Jeremy Maclin to help fill part of that void, but Woodhead could very well flirt with 80-100 targets, which is something he’s done twice in his career.
The issue relying on all that volume for Woodhead is the fact that he’s now 32 years old and has essentially missed two of the last three seasons due to injury, including a torn ACL in 2016 and a fractured ankle/fibula in 2014. Those are two lower body injuries to a 32-year-old running back.
But assuming that Woodhead stays healthy, he’s likely to finish inside the top-40 running backs by default. Why? Because every running back who finished with at least 70 targets last year finished top-40 in standard leagues, including James White, Duke Johnson, and Darren Sproles. In PPR formats, he’d be a lock to finish top-32, as all of those running backs did.
Reviewing the Situation
Recapping the whole situation, Woodhead costs a seventh-round pick as the 33rd running back off the board in standard leagues. Assuming that he’ll stay healthy and produce as efficiently as he did pre-leg injuries, he’s going right where he should be. I’d say that his ceiling in the Ravens backfield is somewhere around the RB32 in standard leagues and RB24 in PPR leagues. He’s not a bad pick, but I also don’t think he’s going to be someone to win you your league at his current cost. I’d prefer getting him outside the top 40 running backs to have built-in equity.
Dixon is being drafted in the ninth-round as the 38th running back off the board in standard leagues, making him the player you should get most excited about. The players being drafted in this range are Theo Riddick, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, and Latavius Murray. Despite sharing a workload with West and totaling the 27th most touches from Week 10 through Week 17, Dixon was the No. 19 running back over the final eight weeks of the season. Harbaugh has expressed confidence in Dixon and didn’t take a single running back in the NFL Draft. His suspension hurts, of course, but you’re able to buy Dixon insurance a few rounds later.
After hearing everything I said about West, it’s odd for me to advocate drafting him at his 12th round ADP as the 51st running back off the board, right? Not really, considering you’re going to be getting a starting running back for at least four games. It’s possible that they work Dixon back in after being away from the team for four weeks, so you may just get five or six starts out of West. The players being drafted in his range include Sproles, Giovani Bernard, Thomas Rawls (also a great pick), Jacquizz Rodgers, and Wendell Smallwood. Outside of Rawls, you won’t see many starting performances out of those running backs without injury.
End Game Result
In an odd strategy, you’re able to snag both Dixon and West for two late-round picks, solidifying one of your starting running back slots throughout the year. It’s one that I might actually employ myself, providing their ADP stays put. Woodhead is a bit trickier, because he’s slowly moving up draft boards to the point where he isn’t really a value. When taking a player of his age, with the injuries that he’s had piling up, you should be getting a discount. All in all, there is value to be had in this backfield, and it starts with Dixon (and West).