Teams will often tell you how they feel about a player on their roster, or any player in general, by what they don’t do. We frequently look for information through an action taken by a front office or coaching staff, but the actions they do not take are just as important and telling. The steady course of inertia, especially where conventional wisdom suggests a change is coming, indicates the team is happy with its current situation.
Heading into the 2015 NFL draft, many observers expected the Ravens to select a running back. Justin Forsett was coming off a career season, but he was nothing more than a veteran journeyman before 2014, and he needed Ray Rice’s suspension, as well as Bernard Pierce’s and Lorenzo Taliaferro’s mediocrity, to open the door to the starting gig. Not only were the Ravens going to select a back, the draft experts said, they could very well end up with one of the two gems of the class, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Georgia’s Todd Gurley.
The Ravens never had a chance to take Gordon or Gurley, but they had at least one shot at every other running back on the board, and multiple opportunities at the rest, other than T.J. Yeldon and Ameer Abdullah. On top of that, Abdullah went one pick before they grabbed tight end Maxx Williams in the second round. If they wanted a back who could make an impact in 2015, they probably could have put together a package to nab the Nebraska product. They didn’t do that, however. They didn’t take a back until the fourth round, when they selected Javorius Allen, a big back who could excel in short yardage, but isn’t going to be their primary runner.
In other words, I think the Baltimore coaching staff and front office very much likes Justin Forsett.
After bouncing around the league for five seasons, Forsett appears to have found a home with the Ravens. It was his fourth team in four years, having spent time with the Seahawks, Texans and Jaguars, never getting more than 118 carries in a season. Last year, he ran the ball 235 times, racking up 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught 44 of his 59 targets for 263 yards, and finished the season as the No. 8 running back in standard-scoring leagues. Keep in mind that he didn’t really have the backfield largely to himself until the middle of October.
Much of the offensive personnel for Baltimore carried over from last season. Joe Flacco and Steve Smith are back in their same roles, but the team added receiver Breshad Perriman and the tight end Williams in the draft. More importantly, the offensive line that ranked fourth in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, returns entirely intact. Right guard Marshall Yanda received the highest run-blocking grade for any offensive lineman in the league, while left guard Kelechi Osemele was fourth among guards and seventh among all linemen. Center Jeremy Zuttah ranked seventh at his position. The big men up front should continue to open big holes, allowing Forsett to get to the second level. That’s where he can really start to do damage.
Forsett had 18 runs of at least 15 yards last season, tied with Eddie Lacy and LeSean McCoy for the second most in the league, trailing only DeMarco Murray (27). Forsett however, had the fewest carries of the four backs. As a percentage of his carries, no back had more 15-yard rushes than Forsett, who reached that mark on 7.7% of his totes. By comparison, Murray did so 6.9% of the time. Part of that owes to the great line consistently helping him get the first five yards without being touched, and part of it is thanks to his ability to make would-be tacklers miss.
The one major change on the offensive side of the ball isn’t on the field, but on the sideline. Gary Kubiak, who was the team’s offensive coordinator last year, is now the head coach in Denver. The Ravens hired former Bears head coach Marc Trestman to replace him. For all of Trestman’s faults as a head coach, no one doubts his ability to construct a strong offense. Just ask Matt Forte. The star running back enjoyed the best two seasons of his career under Trestman, averaging 1,889.5 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns per year. Trestman especially made Forte a weapon in the passing game. After catching a career-high 74 passes in 2013, Forte hauled in 102 balls last season, the most ever by a running back in a single year. Forsett may not be as talented as Forte, but Trestman is going to give him the same opportunities. Don’t be surprised when Forsett touches the ball 300-to-320 times this season.
You’re going to find differing opinions on Forsett this summer, but most everyone will have him somewhere in the 10-to-20 range among running backs, and the 20-to-40 range overall. It’s still a bit early to be thinking about current average draft position having a direct bearing on your draft, but Forsett sits at 23.3, which is the end of the second round in a 12-team league. He’ll have a lot of competition in his quest to be a top-10 running back for the second-straight year, but he has everything he needs to achieve the feat. At the absolute worst, Forsett will be a rock-solid RB2 and a top-15 running back this season.