Why the Baltimore Ravens' Backfield Is the Real Deal
How many of us thought the Ravens’ backfield would actually be better without Ray Rice toting the rock for them? I know I didn’t, especially with a depth chart consisting of Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro.
By Week 3, that list had unofficially shrunken down to two, with Pierce’s role in the offense quickly declining - he was benched for fumbling in Week 1, and missed Week 3 with a thigh injury. With his undoing, Forsett and the rookie Taliaferro were presented with ample opportunities that, in turn, have made them one of the most interesting and unlikely storylines of the 2014 season.
Forsett has since become the league’s fifth-leading rusher on just 113 rushes while Taliaferro has made a name for himself as a viable red-zone option for Baltimore. The key to Baltimore’s rushing attack this season, however, which ranks seventh in total rushing yards and fifth in rushing touchdowns, has undoubtedly been Forsett.
Inside The Numbers
Coupled with Baltimore’s stellar offensive line play and a familiarity with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system (they were in Houston together), Forsett is having a career year. He’s just 10 rushing yards shy of matching his career high set in 2009, and is among the league’s best in nearly every rushing category.
|Rushing Category||Total||NFL Rank|
|Yards Per Attempt||5.4||2nd|
|Yards Per Game||67.7||10th|
The stat that sticks out the most is Forsett’s yards per carry, which comes in at a whopping 5.4. Don’t let the ranking above fool you though, as his total is tops among running backs (Russell Wilson leads the league with a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry).
Digging into our numbers, Forsett has the second-best Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) total among running backs at 12.9, trailing only Mark Ingram. Forsett has had a lot of success this year despite having the fewest carries among top-five rushers, and because he is a frequent option on third down, he's able to record such an impressive number. Forsett also boasts a Rushing NEP per rush average of 0.11, giving him the fifth-highest average among running backs with at least 20 rushes and third-highest among backs with at least 70 carries.
Not only is he putting up impressive numbers on the ground, but he’s also been extremely reliable on third down in pass-catching and blocking situations. Over the years, the Ravens have thrived off of the versatility of their three-down back, and they’re getting similar production from Forsett this season.
|Receiving Category||Total||RB Rank|
|Yards Per Catch||6.52||41st|
*These rankings reflect running backs only, with yards per catch consisting of backs with at least 10 receptions.
A Top Running Back Duo?
Forsett has clearly cemented himself as the number-one back in Baltimore, but that hasn’t stopped Taliaferro from making a splash in his first season. The rookie out of Coastal Carolina has rushed for 247 yards and a team-leading 4 touchdowns while adding 94 more yards on the receiving end. Together, the two have accounted for 1,152 total yards and 7 touchdowns through 9 games, a more than respectable output for two players who entered the year playing much smaller roles.
So, how does Baltimore’s duo measure up to other teams that have primarily boasted a two - or even three - back rotation this year?
|Running Backs||Total Yards||Touchdowns|
Our projections have Forsett finishing the year with 1,230 total yards and just over 6 touchdowns, while Taliaferro is slated to finish with 626 total yards and just under 6 touchdowns. The opportunities should continue to pour in for both backs, especially because of Baltimore’s lack of success passing the ball inside the 20-yard line - they're 29th in red zone quarterback rating - and favorable upcoming schedule.
There’s no reason to believe that the Ravens will be unable to sustain their rushing success - both in fantasy football and real life - thus far, as they are a virtual lock to maintain their standing as a top-10 rushing team; just take a glance at their remaining opponents. Outside of two road trips to New Orleans in week 12 and Miami in week 14, Baltimore will be facing a number of poor run defenses from here on out, a promising sight for those counting on either Forsett or Taliaferro for fantasy production.
|Team||NEP Rush Defense Rank||Fantasy PPG Allowed to Running Backs|
Whether or not Forsett can maintain his standing as one of the league’s top-five rushers with guys like Matt Forte, Alfred Morris and Jamaal Charles not far behind him remains to be seen, but it’s not hard to love the fact that the table is set for Baltimore’s running backs to continue to churn out quality numbers.