jk dobbins, baltimore ravens, fantasy football

JK Dobbins: Exactly How High Is This Phenom’s Ceiling?

Ravens running back JK Dobbins is just one of the impressive rookie running backs from 2020. After a slow start to the season, Dobbins began to see more work as the season wore on. In a run-centric offense, it appears to be ‘wheels-up’ for Dobbins. However, how high can he realistically fly in 2021 and beyond?

The Main Concern

Let’s cut right to the chase. The main concern with J.K. Dobbins is his involvement, or lack thereof, in the passing game. Over the past three seasons, the Ravens have targeted the running back position at the third-lowest rate in the league (16%), behind only the Rams, Titans, and the Washington Football Team. It’s not just the running backs. The Ravens aerial attack as a whole is lacking. Baltimore has attempted the second-fewest passes since 2018, averaging a whopping 29 pass attempts per game.

We have to accept the fact that Dobbins will not notch high reception totals in the near future. So, what needs to be true then for him to be able to produce a top-12 fantasy season?

Analyzing the ‘Low-Reception’ RB1s

Since 2015, we have data on 72 RB1’s. To avoid looking only at possible outliers that skew the data (like LeGarrette Blount’s seven-catch campaign in 2016), I looked at the stats for the two RB1’s from each season who reeled in the fewest catches among their peers in the top-12. With two backs from each season since 2015, we have a data set of 12.

The findings are fairly obvious, as the backs who do not catch many passes rely on more carries, rushing yards, and total touchdowns for their production. 

low reception running backs, jk dobbins, baltimore ravens, fantasy football
LR = The two lowest reception RB1’s each season
All Other = remaining 10 RB1’s each season

There’s an Outlier Among Us!

Even in the small data set of low-reception – LR – RB1’s, there are two entries that skew the data considerably: Derrick Henry’s 2019 and 2020 RB1 campaigns were a sight to behold. Unfortunately for us, those two seasons severely alter the data. We all know Henry doesn’t catch many passes but his attempts, rushing yards, and total touchdowns were vastly above the LR RB1 averages from the table above. 

Excluding data from an already small sample can be risky, but in this case is warranted due to the extreme deviation from the mean for Henry versus the rest of the LR RB1’s. 

When we remove Henry’s stats from 2019 and 2020, we see the drastic effect it has on the LR RB1 averages. 

The question becomes, can J.K. Dobbins touch ~1,295 total yards and 11 touchdowns?

Is JK Dobbins RB1 Worthy?

Dobbins appears to be locked in as a high-end RB2, with RB1 production firmly in his sights. Taking his per game averages from Weeks 8-17, we see that even with lower touches, the yardage and touchdowns keep him afloat. Extrapolating out for a full season, Dobbins was on pace for 1239 total yards and 12 touchdowns, with most of that damage being done on the ground.

Relying on Touchdowns is Too Risky, Right?

Usually, predicting touchdowns can be rather difficult from season to season. As such, relying on those touchdowns to help prop up fantasy production is risky. However, predicting touchdown ranges for Dobbins might not be as difficult (or risky) as you think. 

The Ravens are consistently a run-oriented team ever since Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback. In each season since 2018, the Ravens have finished third in the league in rushing touchdowns (an average of 21 per season). Jackson does ‘steal’ some of those rushing touchdowns, averaging over six ground scores a year throughout the past three. However, Jackson is not used like Josh Allen in Buffalo, who operates as the de facto goal line back for the Bills. Since 2018, Jackson has averaged just over three rushes inside the opponent’s five yards line each season. Instead, the running backs are relied on to punch in touchdowns when close to the goal line.

While Dobbins was out touched inside the opponent’s five yard line by Gus Edwards (9-8), Dobbins was much more efficient with those touches. Among all ball carriers with as many carries inside the five as Dobbins, he had the highest touchdown rate at 87.5%.

JK Dobbins’ Capped Ceiling

While confident Dobbins can accumulate enough rushing yards and touchdowns to return RB1 seasons, the lack of involvement in the receiving game severely caps his upside. Using our earlier data set of 12 LR RB1’s, only two times did the running back finish above RB9 overall. Who might that have been? You guessed it – Henry in 2019 (RB5) and 2020 (RB3). The distribution of finishes among the remaining LR RB1’s?

  • RB9: 3
  • RB10: 1
  • RB11: 3
  • RB12: 3

Unless Dobbins begins to see 35+ receptions or 300 carries, his ceiling is capped as low-end RB1. Locking down a young running back that can finish as a top-12 fantasy producer at his position isn’t a bad thing. And as always, we know that situations can change quickly and often in the NFL. I am not suggesting you fade the talent that is J.K. Dobbins. However, I for one will be listening to offers for Dobbins in my leagues to see who may be willing to ‘overpay’ a high-end RB1 upside price for a back who will struggle to produce as one.

What are you doing with JK Dobbins this offseason? Hit me up @_TaylorCornell and let me know! Don’t miss out on any of the FIRE content this offseason from the Fantasy Intervention team; follow us on Twitter @JoinOurCircle_.

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