Baltimore Ravens: Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Running Back
As the Baltimore Ravens continue organized team activities, the position that has quite a bit of uncertainty as of now is at running back.
Baltimore ranked 29th in total offense and 30th in rushing offense last year. Running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce played behind a poor offensive line while dealing with nagging injuries that limited them to a combined 1,096 yards on 336 carries (3.3 yards per carry).
Behind Rice are several backs who are either career backups or a rookie. Here's a breakdown of Baltimore's running backs and where they currently sit on the depth chart.
4th String: Lorenzo Taliaferro
With the 138th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, Baltimore took running back Lorenzo Taliaferro out of Coastal Carolina.
The 6'2", 230-pound Taliaferro was named the Big South Offensive Player of the Year in 2013 after leading the conference with 1,729 rushing yards on 276 carries (6.3 yards per carry) and 27 touchdowns in 15 games.
He added 23 catches for 153 yards and a pair of scores. In his career at Coastal Carolina, Taliaferro set 11 school records and five conference rushing records.
Normally, Taliaferro wouldn't be expected to get a lot of playing time as a rookie with the Ravens, but he could this year given the uncertainty at the position.
Starting running back Ray Rice is facing a potential suspension from the NFL because of his aggravated assault charge at an Atlantic City casino this offseason.
Backup running back Bernard Pierce is also coming off a subpar season. He had offseason surgery on his shoulder labrum, but Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reports that he should be ready for the start of training camp.
These two situations could mean Taliaferro gets some looks in OTAs and training camp to showcase his skills. This could translate into more playing time in the preseason.
However, an offseason arrest may have severely damaged those chances. According to Wilson, Taliaferro was arrested and charged with destruction of property and being drunk in public in late May.
For the majority of his rookie season, Taliaferro will mostly be relegated to the fourth-string running back role, depending on how well the newly signed Justin Forsett performs in training camp.
Forsett and Taliaferro will battle for the third running back spot to get two or three touches per game behind Rice and Pierce.
That means if Taliaferro is able to outperform Forsett in camp, he could find himself active for a lot of games as a rookie. If he isn't, though, he could be a game-day inactive for most of his rookie season, as teams don't often keep four running backs active for games.
3rd String: Justin Forsett
Though he's battling Taliaferro for the third running back spot, Justin Forsett has already been given first-team reps during Ravens OTAs.
Here's the report from Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:
But the running back who drew the most attention was Justin Forsett. The veteran journeyman is extremely small, but extremely fast. He displayed good hands in catching passes out of the backfield and turned upfield in a hurry.
Forsett took most of the reps with the first team, although no one should read too much into that. This could easily have been a message to Rice and Lorenzo Taliaferro, both of whom were arrested this offseason.
Forsett was signed this offseason as depth behind Rice and Pierce. When Baltimore drafted Taliaferro in the fourth round, however, it looked like Forsett could be buried on the depth chart.
A career backup, Forsett spent the 2013 NFL season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He carried the ball just six times for 31 rushing yards while battling a foot injury.
In seven NFL seasons, Forsett has rushed 347 times for 1,692 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. He's also caught 115 passes for 850 yards (7.4 yards per catch) and one score.
When Forsett has received a heavy workload in games, he's performed very well. Here are his stats in the eight games in which he has received 10-plus carries in his career:
In those eight games, Forsett rushed for an average of 82 yards on 15 carries (5.5 yards per carry). Those are very good numbers, and if Forsett is still capable of playing at that level, the Ravens have a great third-string backup behind Pierce and Rice.
Backup: Bernard Pierce
Entering the 2013 season, Bernard Pierce was viewed as one of the best backup running backs in the NFL. As a rookie in 2012, Pierce gained 532 yards on just 108 attempts (4.9 yards per carry).
However, a shoulder injury and poor offensive line play helped limit him to just 436 yards on 152 carries (2.9 YPC) last year.
The second-year man out of Temple was also dealing with a labrum damage in his shoulder that he had surgery on this offseason.
If he's healthy for the start of training camp, Pierce will likely be the primary backup behind Rice. According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, the team believes the NFL will hand down a multiple-game suspension for Rice's offseason assault of his wife at a casino.
If that's the case, Pierce has a great shot at opening the regular season as the Ravens' starting running back.
If Pierce performs well in his starts, he could force Baltimore to play its backs in more of a committee role with Rice.
Starter: Ray Rice
Ray Rice was plagued with a hip injury and weight issues last year. That led to him rushing for a mere 660 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games.
Prior to last year, Rice rushed for over 1,100 yards in each of the previous four seasons while scoring a combined 39 touchdowns.
An early report during Ravens OTAs suggests that Rice has recovered from his hip ailment while also dropping some weight to regain his Pro Bowl form.
ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley said Rice was "noticeably slimmer and appeared to have a good burst when hitting the holes." That's a good sign Rice is prepared for a bounce-back season to show he still has plenty left in the tank at age 27.
He's the best back on this roster by a wide margin when healthy and in shape. Even though he may miss a few games due to his offseason incident, Rice will be the No. 1 back when he's eligible to play.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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