The Baltimore Ravens activated running back JK Dobbins off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List on Monday afternoon, per multiple reports. Dobbins will return to practice in some capacity immediately and appears on track to play in Baltimore’s Week 1 opener against the New York Jets.
The question now becomes if Dobbins will appear in the preseason for the Ravens. Head coach John Harbaugh may want to get Dobbins a handful of preseason reps, but we don’t expect him to receive a sizable workload.
Dobbins suffered a season-ending torn ACL injury before the 2021 campaign officially began. It occurred during last year’s preseason finale against the Washington Commanders in late August.
Dobbins probably won’t appear in Baltimore’s Thursday preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans. The possibility remains open that Dobbins could play against the Arizona Cardinals on August 21 or ironically, the same Commanders team he suffered his original injury against on August 27. If we were the superstitious type, maybe we’d keep him out of that game.
The nature of that occurrence puts Harbaugh in a particularly difficult position. Losing Dobbins for the entire season was a significant blow to the Ravens’ rushing attack. It made matters worse that it happened in a meaningless preseason game. The Ravens averaged 145.8 rushing yards per contest last season, which was notably lower than the league-leading 191.9 yards they averaged in 2020 with Dobbins at their disposal. Baltimore’s offense also became a bit more pass-happy as a result of Dobbins’ absence.
Is Harbaugh willing to risk Dobbins in the preseason for a second consecutive campaign following last year’s catastrophic outcome? It’s more complicated than it seems.
Rust can be a real issue and Dobbins hasn’t appeared in an NFL contest in nearly 12 months to the date, and that happened to be the preseason game he got hurt in. Padded training camp practices are an asset, but getting Dobbins in a live-action NFL contest would work wonders as he ramps up his return-to-play timeline.
Following the drafting of several offensive linemen and tight ends, the Ravens appear primed to return to their run-heavy ways in 2022. It’s what offensive coordinator Greg Roman does best. Dobbins figures to play a massive role in that return-to-their-roots.
Furthermore, fellow running back Gus Edwards’ injury adds another layer to Baltimore’s decision-making process. Like Dobbins, Edwards suffered a season-ending torn ACL injury before Week 1 marked its arrival. Edwards’ injury occurred during an early-September practice. Unlike Dobbins, however, Edwards continues to rehab from the sidelines and isn’t expected to appear in Week 1 against the Jets. Can the Ravens enter the season without seeing Dobbins in the exhibition knowing that their second-choice running back also isn’t available?
Dobbins exploded in 2020, leading all Ravens running backs with 805 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Quarterback Lamar Jackson was the team’s leading rusher with 1,005 yards, but Dobbins was the most productive pure running back. Dobbins averaged 6.0 yards per carry. He would have been in line for a much bigger statistical output had the Ravens turned to him as their workhorse earlier in the season—Dobbins received just 134 carries and didn’t receive 10-plus carries in a single contest until an early November showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dobbins is fully capable of producing a 1,000-yard campaign in 2022.
The straightforward choice would be to bench Dobbins throughout the preseason. Harbaugh would be welcomed with a world of criticism should Dobbins suffer another serious injury or setback in another meaningless exhibition contest. The decision is more complicated and difficult than it appears on the surface. The Ravens can’t protect Dobbins from contact forever. All parties involved must show faith in Dobbins’ repaired knee. Being activated off the PUP indicates Dobbins is healthy. Giving Dobbins a few carries in the preseason is the difficult, but correct choice.