Since entering the NFL, Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins has been one of the most efficient players in the league. In Todd Monken’s faster-paced offense, is there a path for Dobbins to finish as a top-10 RB in fantasy football this season?
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Does J.K. Dobbins Have Top-10 Fantasy Upside?
Dobbins is entering his fourth professional season but really has just one healthy campaign under his belt. As a rookie, Dobbins opened the year behind Mark Ingram but became the lead back by the end of the year.
Back in 2020, Dobbins scored a touchdown in each of his final six games, never scoring below 13.1 PPR fantasy points. Most impressively, he was a marvel of efficiency on the ground, averaging 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie.
He tore just about everything in his knee, costing him the entire 2021 season. The injury was so severe that Dobbins wasn’t ready to go until Week 3 of the 2022 campaign. But when he returned, he wasn’t quite himself.
Lingering issues from his knee injury resulted in another surgery, keeping Dobbins out from Week 7 until he returned in Week 14. This time, when he returned, he was his usual efficient self.
It’s one thing to average 5.7 ypc. It’s another thing to do it in the first year back from a devastating knee injury. Dobbins is unquestionably one of the best pure runners in the NFL.
With all that said, elite rushing ability isn’t enough to be a top-10 fantasy running back. For Dobbins to have any realistic shot at a top-10 finish, he needs a path to averaging at least 16.0 fantasy points per game.
After returning in Week 14 last season, Dobbins still averaged just 11.7 ppg the rest of the way. So far, he hasn’t demonstrated anything resembling a top-10 ceiling.
To determine whether a top-10 finish is within Dobbins’ range of outcomes, we need to figure out his path to doing so. There are two realistic ways this can happen. Dobbins can either see better-than-expected usage on the ground while maintaining his efficiency, or he can see an increase in receiving work.
Let’s start with the rushing side of things. Historically, the Ravens do not give any running back more than 50% of the snaps. In the Lamar Jackson era, Mark Ingram’s 49.8% snap share is the highest any running back saw. It is worth noting that he was able to finish as the RB10 in 2019.
So, how did Ingram do it? Touchdowns. Ingram only carried the ball 201 times, but he scored 15 times. My projections have Dobbins at 221 carries. With a bunch of touchdowns, that could be enough to get him there.
I only have Dobbins projected for 8.5 touchdowns and 12.4 ppg. If we tack on 6.5 more, matching Ingram’s 2019 number, that gets Dobbins to 14.7 ppg. Closer, but still not there.
I also have Dobbins catching 22 passes for 139 yards. That’s only four receptions fewer than Ingram had in 2019, but he amassed 247 receiving yards. That just might be the difference.
Those receiving numbers have plenty of room to grow. The Ravens targeted the running back position just 13.5% of the time last season. That was 14.1% in 2021. This is not a team that throws much to running backs.
Additionally, last season, the Ravens ran the ball at a 51% rate in a neutral game script. They also averaged 30.4 seconds per snap in a neutral game script, the slowest pace in the league.
If Monken’s offense features more passes to running backs, allowing Dobbins to rack up 2-3 receptions per game, that could propel him over the 16.0 ppg threshold and into the top 10. So, it does appear as if there’s at least a path for Dobbins to finish top 10.
How Likely Is JK Dobbins To Finish Inside the Top 10?
Given that my projections have Dobbins finishing as the RB26, he has quite a bit of ground to make up to get to the top 10. He needs to outperform expectations as a receiver and in the touchdown department. And he needs to do this while maintaining his rushing efficiency.
Last season, 10.9% of Dobbins’ carries went for at least 15 yards. That was the third-highest rate in the league. He also had a 43% evaded-tackles-per-touch rate, second-best in the league. And he did this all despite leading the league in percentage of carries with at least eight men in the box. He’s truly a marvel of efficiency.
But if Dobbins’ ypc drops to the 4.5-4.8 range, while still very good, that’s not going to be enough to get him into the top 10. If Dobbins only scores 10-12 touchdowns, while still very good, he’s got no realistic shot at a top-10 finish.
Ultimately, while we can’t rule out Dobbins as a top-10 running back, it appears to be a very low-probability outcome and not one I would bank on ahead of 2023 fantasy drafts.