Ravens position-by-position draft preview: Running back

Whether the Ravens have been coming off a Super Bowl victory or a season in which they fell short of the playoffs, team officials have never put a greater importance on any single draft. Their stated focus has always been on the one immediately in front of them.

It’s indisputable, though, that the 2018 version is arriving at a critical time for the organization. The Ravens have missed the playoffs in three consecutive years, the longest stretch since they failed to qualify for the postseason in their first four seasons in Baltimore. Fan frustration with one of the most stable franchises in the NFL might be at an all-time high, evidenced by the number of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium last year as the team fought for a playoff berth. General manager Ozzie Newsome is preparing for his final season in his current position, and the 2018 season will also bring questions about the futures of several other long-term franchise mainstays, including coach John Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

With several holes on the offensive side of the ball, the pressure is on the Ravens’ top decision-makers to turn their draft currency into immediate roster help. The Ravens will head into the three-day draft, which begins April 26, with eight total picks: one each in the first (16th overall), second (52nd), third (83rd), fourth (118th), fifth (154th) and seventh (238th) rounds, and two in the sixth round (190th and 215th).

Through April 25, the day before the start of the draft, The Baltimore Sun will break down what the Ravens have at each position, the chance they will add to it and what prospects could be targeted with those picks.

Today we’ll look at running backs.

Current running backs under contract: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, John Crockett, Patrick Ricard (fullback), Ricky Ortiz (fullback)

Chances that the Ravens will draft a running back in first three rounds: Moderate. When the Ravens talked about adding playmakers on offense this offseason, they weren’t just confining themselves to wide receivers and tight ends. They believe there is definitely room to add a dynamic running back who can create big plays and factor into the passing game. They have several bigger needs, though, so this is a piece they’ll probably look for either late on Day 2 or early on Day 3. The Ravens haven’t taken a running back earlier than the third round since 2008, when they used a second-round pick on Ray Rice. Another deep running back class means quality ball carriers will be available in the middle rounds.

Possibly on Ravens’ radar: Nick Chubb (Georgia), Derrius Guice (LSU), Ronald Jones (USC), Sony Michel (Georgia), Rashaad Penny (San Diego State)

Outlook: Collins’ emergence as a lead back last season, plus the return of the versatile Allen and a healthy Dixon, makes another running back probably more of a luxury than a necessity. However, the Ravens do lack a pass-catching back with big-play potential. Adding a player with that skill set would give the team a much-needed jolt of offensive speed and versatility, and allow the Ravens to create more mismatches in the passing game. The Ravens don’t necessarily need to target the position early either. The success last year of rookies Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara, both taken in the third round last year, is the latest proof that good backs can be found outside the first round. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the only running back who appears to be a lock to go in the first. That means the Ravens should have quite a few options in the middle rounds. The last three backs they have drafted have come in the fourth round. Guice, a physical and tough runner who had a predraft visit with the Ravens, might become an option if the team trades back in the first round. The Ravens like Penny as well.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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