Post-Draft Breakdown: Running Backs

Who do the Ravens have in the backfield, and what questions remain after the draft?

Posted by Ryan Mink on Monday, May 30th, 2011 at 10:52 am | Categories: Ryan Mink

A big priority for the Ravens this offseason is improving the running game.

At the same time, Baltimore has some big questions in the backfield.

Beyond featured back Ray Rice, the status of backup Willis McGahee and fullback Le’Ron McClain are unknown.

Baltimore bolstered its backfield by selecting Georgia Tech running back Anthony Allen in the seventh round. Now, with Allen on board, let’s look at what’s known and unknown:

What We Know…

Rice is an elite playmaker and will remain the backbone of the Ravens’ offense, both from a rushing and receiving standpoint. But he’ll be looking for a rebound rushing season.

Rice’s average yards per carry dropped from 5.3 during his Pro Bowl 2009 season to 4.0 last year. He ran the ball 53 more times, yet rushed for 119 fewer yards. Perhaps the biggest reason was a drop in big plays, the cause of which is difficult to diagnose.

Behind Rice is a group of backups that could be in a position to step up as his backup.

Jalen Parmele will return after playing in all 16 games last year. He didn’t have a rushing attempt, but did spend time as a kick returner. The hardworking Parmele, a former sixth-round pick, is well-liked by the coaching staff.

Curtis Steele, who spent all of last year on the practice squad, will have a shot at working his way onto the active roster. Steele’s more of a third-down scatback to Parmele’s power game.

Matt Lawrence should return from a leg injury. After playing in eight games on special teams during his 2009 rookie season, the former undrafted prospect sat out all of 2010. He began the year on the Reserve Unable to Perform List and never came off.

The 6-foot-0, 229-pound Allen will provide depth and could step into a power rushing role. He’ll definitely be a candidate for special teams.

The Ravens re-signed veteran fullback Jason McKie in February, likely as insurance if McClain isn’t back and to have another tough blocker in the backfield. McKie was on the roster for the final five weeks last season, but never active for a game.

What We Don’t Know…

Two heads of the former three-headed monster may not be back next year.

McGahee is under contract, but there’s media speculation that the Ravens aren’t willing to pay his full salary next year, as McGahee’s role has waned. McGahee had career-lows in attempts (100), yards (380) and rushing touchdowns (5) last season.

If McGahee isn’t willing to re-negotiate his contract – which agent Drew Rosenhaus said he is not – then the Ravens could opt to part ways with the veteran.

McClain may be an unrestricted free agent under a new collective bargaining agreement. If he is, it’s expected that he will test the open market. After last season, McClain expressed dissatisfaction with diminished carries, but later said he would like to remain a Raven.

Head Coach John Harbaugh said McClain is going to evolve his role as more of a runner in the NFL, and he is hopeful that can happen in Baltimore. But with Rice getting the lion’s share of touches, Baltimore may not be willing to pay top dollar for another ball carrier.

Allen is a bruising back who could be capable of stepping into a complimentary power running spot behind Rice. But considering he’s shut out of camps and time with coaches during the lockout, it’s unknown how much Allen will be able to contribute right away.

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