Fantasy Court: The Case for J.K. Dobbins in 2021

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In the Fantasy Court Series, two of the writers for The Fantasy Footballers choose sides on a player and present their argument to help you decide whether or not you should be drafting these players at their average draft position (ADP).  It’s important to acknowledge that draft cost is the most important factor when it comes to loving or hating a fantasy player come draft day. Today’s case is all about J.K. Dobbins, who finished the 2020 season as the RB21 overall.  As of this writing, he’s currently valued at an average draft position (ADP) of 3.03 as RB16.  I think Dobbins will take a step forward this season and be used enough to warrant RB1 production.  Conversely, you can read Matthew Betz’s The Case Against J.K. Dobbins for the counterargument. 

Opening Statement

J.K. Dobbins is entering his second year after being drafted in the 2nd round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2020.  He has been electric on the field when given an opportunity, and we should expect more of the same in 2021.

The Ravens are a prolific offense and run…A LOT.  In fact, the Ravens have been top-2 in both rush attempts and rushing yards in each of the past three seasons.  Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards have all been incredibly effective as rushers.  However, the volume of rush attempts is great enough to provide Dobbins with the workload needed to be a solid running back.  And if Dobbins is given a workhorse role due to coaching decisions or injuries?  Well, then he has the upside to be THE RB1 in fantasy this season.

J.K. Dobbins is being drafted at his floor (RB16) based on current ADP.  Keep in mind that Dobbins has the talent to be elite.  He’s also on the best rushing offense in football.  If the stars align, Dobbins has the upside to be a league winner – but you don’t have to spend a first or second-round pick on him!  I am targeting Dobbins in the 3rd round of redraft leagues this season, and you should too!

Plus – his name is super cool – J’Kaylin Dobbins…that alone should sell you on him if we’re being honest.

2020 Performance

Dobbins finished his rookie season as an RB2 for fantasy.  He did that while only seeing 40% of the running back touches over the course of the season.  In fact, the first game where he touched the ball 10+ times wasn’t until Week 6.  For those who don’t remember, Mark Ingram started the season as the lead dog after his monster 2019 season.  After the Raven’s Week 7 bye, Dobbins averaged 13 touches for 13.2 fantasy points per game.  He was incredibly efficient when given an opportunity.

Let’s take a closer look at last season:

  • The Ravens ranked 1st in run plays per game last season.
  • Dobbins ran for 15+ yards on 8.2% of his rushing attempts, which led the NFL in 2020.
  • He also averaged 2.18 yards created per touch, which is essentially the average yards added after the first evaded tackle.  This ranked #3 in the NFL last season.
  • The most efficient runners (min 70 attempts) were Aaron Jones (5.6 yards per carry), Nick Chubb (5.6 ypc), Miles Sanders (5.3 ypc), J.K. Dobbins (5.3), and Derrick Henry (5.2 ypc).

The numbers don’t lie – the guy is a beast.  If that doesn’t do it for you, let’s compare him to another player from the same draft class: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (CEH).  CEH had 43% more touches on the season than J.K. Dobbins.  Dobbins still finished with MORE TOTAL FANTASY POINTS!  They are both being drafted around the same place – early to mid 3rd round.

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The film backs it up:

Expectations for 2021

I expect Dobbins to see an uptick in carries in 2021.  He will still split carries with Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards, don’t get me wrong.  But Mark Ingram is no longer with the team, which opens the door for Dobbins to see an expanded role.  Also, I expect Gus Edwards to see a slight decrease in touches as Dobbins establishes himself as the alpha in the backfield.

The biggest risk in drafting Dobbins is that he hasn’t been used in the passing game very often.  However, consider that Dobbins was a prolific pass catcher in college.  What if the coaching staff decides to give him more passes after his rookie season now that they have the offseason to plan?  And if they don’t?  Well, Mark Ingram finished as the RB10 overall in 2019 with fewer than 40 targets…so can Dobbins.  J.K. Dobbins is better at this point in his career than Ingram was in 2019 (don’t get me wrong, Ingram was VERY good that season).

The Ravens are good at creating opportunities for their skilled position players.  Lamar Jackson led the league in passing touchdowns in 2019.  Mark Andrews is a player that gets the ball in the red zone.  The same type of scheming should be in play with Dobbins in 2021.

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I don’t think anyone disputes the talent of Dobbins…the risk is strictly with the opportunities that he’ll be given – both in the rushing and passing game.  Dobbins saw 134 rush attempts and 24 targets last season.  These should both improve, especially the rush attempts.  If we look at last season, the Ravens had 555 (NICE!) rush attempts as a team.  If we assume the same rushing workload and break it down by player…

  • Lamar Jackson could easily see 170 attempts, more than last season.
  • Gus Edwards might see 130 attempts, which is only a few less than last year (144).
  • That leaves 255 rush attempts for J.K. Dobbins

There is a clear path for Dobbins to see a large increase in workload without it being at the expense of Lamar Jackson or Gus Edwards.  And in the unfortunate event that Jackson or Edwards miss time to injury?  Well, then the sky is the limit for Dobbins.  He would immediately jump into top-3 RB territory.

Conclusion

In conclusion, J.K. Dobbins is a STEAL in the third round of drafts.  He was the most efficient running back in football, and he’s on the league’s best rushing offense behind a solid offensive line.  He’s being drafted at his floor as RB16, and the upside is through the roof.

J.K. Dobbins is the perfect target for someone like me who tends to go RB heavy early in drafts.  I will be drafting J.K. Dobbins everywhere I can, and you should too!

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