Ravens Should Make Free-Agency Push for ‘Highest-Graded’ RB

Josh Jacobs

Getty The Ravens should make a push for the "highest-graded" RB in free agency.

Suppose the Baltimore Ravens don’t sign just another journeyman running back next offseason. Suppose there’s no Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, Mike Davis or Kenyan Drake.

What if the Ravens and general manager Eric DeCosta pushed the boat out and made a true splash in free agency? Doing so could land one of the NFL’s most run-heavy teams the “highest-graded” running back by a leading analytics site, a young player on the rise who is thriving, despite not have his fifth-year option picked up by his current team.

Elite Runner in Multiple Categories Perfect for Ravens

The Las Vegas Raiders were content not to exercise the final year of Josh Jacobs’ rookie contract. He’s seen been showing them why letting him become a free agent would be a major mistake, per Ari Meirov of Pro Football Focus: “Jacobs is top-five in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards after contact, missed tackles forced and 10-plus-yard runs. He will be 25 years old in February.”

Meirov also noted how “PFF’s highest-graded running back through 10 weeks” would’ve earned $8 million next year if the Raiders had taken the option.

The Silver and Black’s mistake can be the Ravens’ gain, provided DeCosta is bold enough in the market. There are ample reasons why he should make a major push for Jacobs.

For one thing, the Ravens are still a team that only goes as far as its running game. It’s surprising, then, they’ve rarely had a featured workhorse in recent years.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson remains the most productive and dangerous runner on the roster:

Jackson’s ability to outperform even some of the best running backs in the league creates a false sense of security for the Ravens. DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman believe they can get by with a mix-and-match policy at RB.

Appearances are deceiving though, and the Ravens’ committee approach succeeds more through luck than design. You only need to look at some of the issues faced by members of the depth chart.

Davis has barely featured, rushing the ball a mere eight times and making just one catch. The 29-year-old isn’t a factor, while Drake, 28, only broke out against the New Orleans Saints in Week 9. He’s averaged less than four yards per carry in four of his seven games.

Jacobs is younger and would be an upgrade over both pending free agents. He’d also be more likely to stay on the field longer than Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill.

All three have missed significant due to knee injuries, with Dobbins starting only five games since entering the pros as a second-round pick in 2020. There’s little secure about this running back rotation, but Jacobs has been dependable while starting 51 games, including all nine this season, since being drafted 24th overall in 2019.

Jacobs is also more of a receiving threat than any back on the Ravens’ roster. He’s made 138 receptions for 952 yards so far during his career, thanks to the soft hands and sharp route-running skills he’s been showing off since he entered the league:

Jacobs be Jackson’s first true three-down back since becoming the starter. Ironically, Jackson’s future might impede the Ravens from pushing enough chips into the middle of the table to acquire Jacobs.

Jackson’s Future Doesn’t Need to Hinder Ravens in FA

When the franchise QB is playing in a contract year, the GM knows tough decisions lie ahead. The main one is whether to pay Jackson on a par with Denver Broncos’ starter Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns or use the franchise tag.

DeCosta is tipped to use the tag by Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine, along with former NFL general manager and ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum. It’s far from a cheap option, with Spotrac.com calculating the potential cost of the tag at $45.4 million:

Making room for that number will be a tough needle to thread for a franchise currently projected to have $39,605,536 worth of space under next year’s salary cap. There’s also the not-so small matter of securing the future of Roquan Smith, the all-action linebacker DeCosta traded second and fifth-round draft picks and veteran A.J. Klein to the Chicago Bears to acquire.

Committing money to turning Jacobs’ head seems like a luxury the Ravens can’t afford, but things could change. Certain players may become expendable.

Players like safety Chuck Clark and his $5,913,333 cap hit for ’23, if young defensive backs Kyle Hamilton and Geno Stone continues to impress. It’s a similar story at edge-rusher, where the Ravens’ plethora of options could make Tyus Bowser’s $6.5 million cap hit too much of a burden. You can also add tight end Nick Boyle to the list while rookie Isaiah Likely and Josh Oliver continue cutting into his playing time.

The point is DeCosta will need to reshuffle the deck for Smith and Jackson. Why not also free up some extra cash for Jacobs?

Many fans would like to see any surplus dollars spent on upgrading the wide receiver group. It’s a reasonable ask, but there’s still time for a wideout like Devin Duvernay or James Proche to step up.

DeCosta stays faithful to the best player available approach in the draft, but perhaps it can be tweaked slightly to take the best receiver available in 2023. That would clear the path for somebody like Jacobs.

The Ravens love running backs so why not finally put a marquee, do-all workhorse next to No. 8 in the backfield?