Examining The Ravens Running Back DepthPosted on June 02, 2014 by Phil Gentile
The first round of Organized Team Activities started last week and with the signing of undrafted rookie Fitzgerald Toussaint from Michigan the Ravens currently have seven running backs at their disposal. Let's take a look at each of them and see which will make an impact in 2014 and which won't make the cut:
Ray Rice (entering 7th season; 660 rushing yards in 2013)
Where do I begin? Rice was one of the most dominant running backs in the league in 2011 and has been on a steady decline statistically ever since. He finished last season with only one 100-yard game (vs. the 32nd ranked Bears and a mediocre 3.08 yards per carry. Then there was his assault arrest in Atlantic City back in February after an incident with his then fiance/now wife Janay. Rice plead not guilty to the charges and agreed to an intervention program, which allows first-time offenders to have charges against them dismissed after participating in the program and meeting certain conditions.
On the bright side, The Baltimore Sun reports Ray Rice showed up to Ravens OTAs at "about" 205 pounds, his hip injury seems to be a thing of the past, and new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has vowed to get Rice more involved. Still, Rice had around 900 carries at Rutgers and 1,621 carries at the NFL level (including playoffs) so a decline in production is to be expected at some point. He should bounce back from a dismal 2013 but if he doesn't the coaching staff will be sure to get one of these other backs involved.
Bernard Pierce (entering 3rd season; 426 rushing yards in 2013)
I had high hopes for Pierce when the Ravens drafted him back in 2012. He was a upright runner that complimented Rice's style perfectly. Unfortunately his biggest problem has been staying on the field. Even when healthy last season, though, he was one of the few running backs in the league that had a worse YPG (2.9) than Rice. Again a majority of their struggles was due to an inept offensive line but Pierce needs to really contribute this season, especially if Goodell suspends Rice for part of the season. Pierce is a lock to make the team as Ray Rice's backup but if he struggles in Rice's absence the coaching staff would be wise to give Taliaferro or Wood a chance to prove themselves. This team seems more comfortable when they have a dominant running game to lean on and we need that again here in Baltimore.
Lorenzo Taliaferro (entering rookie season; 1,729 rushing yards in 2013 at Coastal Carolina)
Given the uncertainty of the the two player listed above it was fairly obvious that the Ravens would select an insurance policy in the draft. Enter Taliaferro, an Arian Foster type runner that should fit into Kubiak's system quite nicely. Not known for his top end speed, Taliaferro looks like the perfect in-between the tackles runner that Ravens fans have enjoyed over the years. Not sure if he's ever going to be a legit NFL starter but he could be a good complimentary back for this team for a long time. As you probably know he was arrested last month after punching out a cab window. There was reportedly alcohol involved. This news coupled with any potential struggles in training camp could open up a spot for someone else but I don't see that happening. Ozzie and company like to give their draft picks every opportunity to shine.
Justin Forsett (entering 7th season; 31 rushing yards in 2013)
Is Forsett really only a year older than Ray Rice? It feels like he's been in the league since I was in high school! The Ravens signed the former 7th rounder this offseason for additional depth. However, with Rice's looming suspension and Pierce's health I could see Forsett getting carries at some point this season. In reality he's more of a special teams player at this point in his career. Could come down to Taliaferro and Forsett for the 3rd string running back gig.
Cierre Wood (entering 2nd season; spent 2013 on Ravens practice squad)
Signed by the Ravens back in October, I really liked Wood's chances of being on the roster....that is until they drafted Taliaferro in May's NFL Draft. Wood is more of an elusive/speed back than a power back so he might be a nice replacement option on the roster if/when Rice is suspended. He was cut by the Texans in October for allegedly smoking marijuana the night before a game against the Chiefs. Wood is practice squad material in 2014 until a spot on the Ravens roster opens up.
Shaun Chapas (entering 4th season; spent 2013 on Jaguars practice squad)
Chapas signed with the Ravens last month and appears to be just a warm body for OTAs and minicamps. He was a fullback during his time at Georgia and with the Ravens so deep at the running back position I don't see him being on the roster when training camp starts in August.
Fitzgerald Toussaint (entering rookie season; 648 rushing yards in 2013 at Michigan)
The Ravens brought Toussaint in for a tryout at their rookie minicamp and must have liked what they saw from the Michigan product. He had 1,041 rushing yards in his sophomore season but suffered a broken left tibia and a fractured left fibula in his junior year so injury concerns might be realistic.
Look for the Ravens to place Toussaint on the practice squad for a year or two like they did with Bobby Rainey to see if he fits into their long-term plans.