Running backs are one of the positions that tend to be easy to replace for NFL teams. That said, the Ravens faced an unnatural number of injuries at the post and had to completely replenish their depth board as a result.
Baltimore had five running backs on its depth chart in the 2021 NFL preseason. There is only one left. JK Dobbins (knee), Gus Edwards (knee) and Justice Hill (Achilles) all suffered late-season injuries in the two weeks leading up to the season. They were expected to be the Ravens’ top three running backs.
Meanwhile, Nate McCrary, the team’s fifth running back, was among the team’s last cutoffs, but has enjoyed a solid preseason. The Broncos claimed the undrafted rookie on waivers, so the Ravens couldn’t bring him back as reinforcements.
As a result, the Ravens only have Ty’Son Williams from their 90-man roster during the offseason. They stepped up their depth by signing a bunch of names familiar to Le’Veon Bell, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, and Trenton Cannon.
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Here’s a look at what Baltimore is working with as a running back, as well as what you need to know about Williams, Bell, Murray, Freeman and Cannon.
RB Baltimore Ravens Depth Map
Here’s what to know about the Ravens running back depth chart entering Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season. The team’s official depth chart hasn’t been updated to reflect Edwards and Hill’s injuries, but here’s what order appears to be to start the season.
1. Ty’Son Williams
Williams is apparently the biggest beneficiary of injuries ahead of him. The second-year running back didn’t earn a hold as an undrafted rookie, but he totaled 24 carries, 130 yards and a rushing touchdown during the preseason.
Williams had edged Hill on the Ravens’ depth chart even before Hill’s injury, according to ESPN. They were comfortable using Williams as a replacement, and now, as a full back with the most experience in the Baltimore offense, he will likely start the season as a starter, the bare minimum.
2. Latavius Murray
Murray, 31, is a well-known veteran, but he’s also been a Ravens member for just four days. He officially signed with the Ravens on September 10, shortly after his release from the Saints; he left New Orleans because he didn’t want to take a pay cut on his $ 3 million salary, according to NOLA.com.
During his career, Murray appeared in 108 games with 63 starts for the Raiders, Vikings and Saints. He averages 170 carries, 713 yards and six direct touchdowns per season while maintaining an average of 4.2 yards per carry. The Ravens signed him because they see him as a good fit in the team’s offense.
“His style matches what we do,” Harbaugh said, according to ESPN’s Jameson Hensley. “You saw our attack. I think you can imagine it quite easily in our attack.”
Hensley also wrote that Murray could become the “star back” once he learns of the Ravens offense. That makes him the likely No. 2 running back for the team in the long run. That said, his role in opening the season may be diminished given he’s only been in Baltimore for a few days.
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3. Le’Veon Bell
Bell likely has the same status as Murray at this point in their tenure with the Ravens, but in the long run Murray seems more likely to complement Williams than Bell.
Bell is younger than Murray at 29, but since missing the 2018 season due to a contract dispute, Bell has averaged 3.4 yards per carry. He was inactive for the Chiefs in the AFC and Super Bowl championship game last season, and he wasn’t happy with it. He has vowed to never play for Andy Reid after his light use in 11 games with the Chiefs.
“I’ll never play for Andy Reid again… I’ll retire first,” Bell wrote in an Instagram comment.
Still, Bell may still have something in the tank. He was an All-Pro in 2017 and totaled 82 catches for 599 receiving yards and one touchdown in 26 games (19 starts) over the past two seasons. He can play a catch-catcher role, so he’ll get snaps as long as he’s activated by the practice squad.
Harbaugh said there was “a chance” Bell would be raised from the practice squad to active roster before Edwards’ injury, so he should have a chance to show his worth against the Raiders.
Bell joined the training squad on September 7. That extra head start over guys like Murray and Freeman could prove crucial in getting him to touch on Week 1.
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4. The Trenton Cannon
Cannon was signed by the Ravens on September 8. He’s a fourth-year veteran who plans to be active as a special teams presence for the Ravens.
Cannon played 40.1 percent of the Panthers’ special teams snaps last year while handling just 13 touches for 49 yards. He caught 17 passes for 144 yards as a rookie with the Jets in 2018, so the 27-year-old could serve as a receiver if needed. He’s more likely to play exclusively on special teams, despite being on the active roster ahead of Bell and Freeman.
5. Devonta Freeman
Like Bell, Freeman is part of the practice team. However, it looks like he’s behind Bell in the pecking order, which will make him the lowest-ranked RB on the team.
Freeman, 29, has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry over the past two seasons and has caught 66 passes for 468 yards and four touchdowns in that span. He could be as efficient as Bell if he got the chance to play, but the Ravens opted to sign Bell three days before Freeman. So the Ravens seem to prefer Bell.
Maybe Freeman can get past Bell at some point in the season, but for now he’s behind Bell on the practice squad. This means he’s unlikely to receive a matchday call-in from the practice squad, at least early in the season.
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Why are Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman on the practice squad?
Essentially it came down to a tighter roster for the Ravens. Shortly after signing Bell to the practice squad, they held their third half-realist spot with Cannon. This gave them a three-man RB unit of Edwards, Williams and Cannon; Bell was kept on the practice squad as a deep.
After Edwards was injured, the Ravens signed Freeman to the practice squad. Then Edwards was placed on IR on September 10 and the Ravens’ corresponding decision was to sign Murray. So they had Williams, Murray and Cannon on their active roster with Bell and Freeman on the practice squad.
The Ravens probably thought Murray was more likely to sign elsewhere if he wasn’t on the 53-man roster, so they gave him the spot. Bell and Freeman have remained on the practice squad as there is less league-wide interest in their services. After all, Bell hasn’t signed for the entire offseason while Freeman has had a very brief stint with the Saints.
Needless to say, the Ravens make good use of the NFL’s new practice squad layouts – which allow teams to keep veterans in the unit – well.