Hyde among running backs that could interest Ravens in draft

OWINGS MILLS - The Baltimore Ravens want to get back to playing physical, smash-mouth football.

Throughout team history, the Ravens have consistently ranked as one of the better running teams in the NFL. Last season, they had one of the least effective running games in the NFL.

And while the team has been more aggressive in upgrading its passing game during the last month, one of the primary goals for Baltimore entering the offseason was to get back to being able to pound and overwhelm opposing defenses on the ground.

The team expects new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to help with that. The Houston Texans and Denver Broncos consistently ranked among the best rushing offenses in the league under Kubiak's direction.

The Ravens also added a new center, Jeremy Zuttah, hoping to improve one of their biggest problem areas on the offensive line last season.

Now, they plan to use the draft to add talent at running back, possibly even as early as the second-round with a back like Carlos Hyde from Ohio State.

"I think the draft is such at that position where you can get a guy in any round - second through seventh - that can help you play some good football," Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said.

Baltimore's need for a running back has been greatened since the season ended.

Starter Ray Rice is facing a third-degree assault charge, and he could be suspended by the NFL regardless of the outcome of his case.

Backup Bernard Pierce, meanwhile, underwent shoulder surgery in January and is expected to be held out of football activities until at least the beginning of training camp in late July.

However, the Ravens viewed it as a priority to add at least one running back even before Rice was arrested in February.

They pursued some running backs during free agency - notably former New Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount - but the only back they signed was Justin Forsett, a journeyman who has now been a part of four different teams the last four years.

So Baltimore will depend on the draft, and it may be hard for the team to pass on Hyde if he is still available when the Ravens pick in the second round.

Coach John Harbaugh has said that he would like to add a big, physical, Blount-like back to go along with Rice and Pierce. The 6-foot, 230-pound Hyde is that type of player, although he brings more to the table than just that.

Hyde was suspended the first three games of last season for being a person of interest in an assault investigation, but he ran for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns during Ohio State's final 10 games while averaging 7.3 yards per carry.

"[He] proved he can be a workhorse," Nolan Nawrocki wrote in a scouting report on NFL.com. "[He's a] solid all-around chunk runner well-built for the physicality of the AFC North."

LSU's Jeremy Hill is another big back teams are intrigued by.

The 6-foot-1, 233-pound Hill ran for 1,401 yards last season while averaging an SEC record 6.9 yards per carry, but multiple issues off the field may scare off some teams.

Aside from Hyde and Hill, Baltimore has also shown interest in Towson's Terrance West and Boston College's Andre Williams, among others.

West, another big back at 5-foot-9, 225 pounds, led Towson to the FCS championship game last season. He rushed for 2,519 yards and 41 touchdowns, including an FCS playoff record 354 yards and five touchdowns in the Tigers' upset win over Eastern Illinois in the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs.

He also ran for 115 yards and two touchdowns in leading Towson past higher-seeded Eastern Washington is the semifinal round.

"What he did in the postseason was pretty fun to watch," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "Joe Douglas, our national scout, and I live 12 houses down from one another, and we're texting during the game different legendary backs that he looks like against Eastern Illinois as he ran for like 200-some-odd yards.

"He's a really productive player who has had a great year and a lot of touchdowns and knows how to find the end zone."

Williams didn't have more than 584 yards during any of his first three seasons at Boston College, but he ran for an FBS-best 2,177 yards last year despite being limited by an injury late in the season.

Many pundits feel he will be drafted in the third or fourth round.

But whether it's with a back like Hyde, Hill, West or Williams in the early rounds or someone like Isaiah Crowell or Lorenzo Taliaferro later on, Baltimore plans to address the running back position during the draft.

Harbaugh made sure to say that the Ravens have other areas they would like to address during the draft as well, but he did say, "It's important to add a running back."