Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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Down Goes Dixon

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Let’s have a quick conversation about Kenneth Dixon. Let’s make this one count too, because this might be the last time we talk about Dixon this year.

 

That’s because his season is already over. Kaput, gone, blouses. It’s history.

 

Looking back on it, Dixon’s season may have been doomed from the start. The 23-year-old was popped for PEDs in March, resulting in a four-game suspension. Being suspended for the first quarter of the season, especially for something as preventable as PEDs, is less than ideal, but not necessarily a deal-breaker for fantasy owners. Dixon generated his fair share of buzz as a rookie last summer and more or less met expectations, particularly in the second half when he averaged nearly five yards per carry.

 

Most figured default starter Terrance West would tread water for a few weeks before passing back the baton to the younger, superior Dixon. But that plan was quickly thwarted when it was announced that Dixon would undergo meniscus surgery on Tuesday. The usual timetable for a torn meniscus is about 6-8 weeks, but Dixon’s tear was significant enough to require a full repair, necessitating season-ending surgery.

 

Dixon’s torn meniscus could have happened to anyone and, like most injuries, may have been nothing more than a singular instance of bad luck. But if “bad luck” was indeed the culprit, it’s quite the coincidence. Dixon, if you recall, missed the Ravens’ first four games last season with a sprained MCL. That folks, is called a pattern. While it’s still too early in Dixon’s development to guess his trajectory, the injury-prone label is sure to follow him after missing 20 of a possible 32 games to begin his career.

 

Losing Dixon isn’t exactly a deathblow—the Ravens knew they’d be without him for at least four games—but it does call Baltimore’s backfield depth into question. Though Terrance West isn’t the most enticing lead back, he at least stayed healthy last year while managing six touchdowns and over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Whether that’s a convincing enough resume for the Ravens to hand him the lead role remains to be seen.

 

Should they address the position in free agency, the Ravens will surely place calls to Rashad Jennings and DeAngelo Williams. Among halfbacks, Jennings and Williams are the cream of the free agent crop, which is admittedly a pretty low bar to clear. Jennings led the Giants with 593 rushing yards a year ago (again, not a Nobel Prize-worthy accomplishment) while Williams was a serviceable handcuff for Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh, averaging 81.3 yards per game in four starts.

 

Despite their employment status, Jennings and Williams stayed busy this offseason. Jennings followed in the footsteps of Emmitt Smith, Hines Ward and Donald Driver in becoming the fourth NFL player to win Dancing with the Stars while Williams took his considerable talents to the professional wrestling circuit. Both are in their 30s and far from sure things. But if nothing else, signing Jennings or Williams would make for good water cooler fodder, replacing the beaten-to-death “is Joe Flacco elite?” argument (spoiler: he’s not) as the go-to debate topic around Ravens circles.

 

Baltimore made a minor move by snatching up Bobby Rainey on Tuesday, but he’s more of an insurance policy than someone the Ravens can count on for consistent carries. A journeyman if there ever was one, the 29-year-old has spent time with four separate franchises (this will be his second stint with Baltimore) since breaking into the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012.

 

The argument against West is simple. He’s a small-school (Towson in the house!), replacement-level talent playing for his third team in four years. When “oh yeah, that guy used to play for the Browns” is your identifier, you’re probably not going to move mountains. Never mind that West was roundly outplayed by Dixon down the stretch last season, capping the year with a four-game touchdown drought. By comparison, the ascendant Dixon made three end-zone visits during that same span. The backfield distribution was largely an even split last year—West out-touched Dixon 105-98 over the team’s final eight games. But by the conclusion of 2016, it was clear West was being phased out in favor of Dixon.

 

Of course, the case against upgrading the Ravens’ backfield is just as concrete. That’s not because West is any kind of machete-wielding fantasy super-ninja—I think I’ve made pretty clear where he stands in the hierarchy of NFL backs (somewhere at the intersection of painfully average and yawn-inducing). But the Ravens mostly survived without a running game last season (if 8-8 is your idea of surviving—for Patriots fans, that would be the equivalent of a hunger strike) and are even better-equipped to employ the fabled zero-RB philosophy in 2017. That’s because they snagged pass-catching dynamo Danny Woodhead off the free agent waters last March.

 

You might be wondering why it took over 800 words for me to even acknowledge the Ravens’ best running back. Much of that is me being a meandering, literary sociopath who buries ledes like the neighborhood golden retriever buries Milk-Bones. But the other, equally real aspect of my neglect is that in my humble opinion, Woodhead barely qualifies as a running back. He’s a receiver through and through, averaging an impressive 38.6 receiving yards per game over his last four seasons.

 

To put that number in perspective, only two halfbacks in the NFL—David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell (wonder where they’re being drafted this year)—topped that number in 2016. In 2015, which was Woodhead’s last healthy season, the pint-sized pass-catcher pulled in a career-best 80 catches for 755 yards. He led all running backs in both categories.

 

With so much talent missing from last year’s receiving corps—Steve Smith Sr. (retired to pursue broadcasting), Kamar Aiken (signed with Indianapolis) and Dennis Pitta (cut with an injury designation) have all gone their separate ways—Woodhead’s target share should be immense. His red-zone prowess (32 career touchdowns) only strengthens his position as one of the safest bets in PPR.

 

The shortcomings are obvious—youthful is an adjective we no longer associate with Woodhead (he turned 32 in January) and injuries have limited him to just 21 games out of a possible 48 over his last three seasons. But his fit in Baltimore couldn’t be more perfect. The Ravens have led the league in passing attempts two years running and with Woodhead at their disposal—not to mention the always-reliable Mike Wallace, a healthy Ben Watson, breakout candidate Breshad Perriman and offseason signing Jeremy Maclin—Baltimore should have a chance to make it three straight.

 

Another less likely option that’s been floated around the Twittersphere (the Internet is always at its best when we’re wildly speculating), is the Ravens swinging a trade for Niners bell cow Carlos Hyde. The 26-year-old is entering a contract year and can probably see the writing on the wall with fourth-round rookie Joe Williams waiting in the wings. If the 49ers choose to shop Hyde before he inevitably walks in free agency, he’d make sense as a one-year rental for the Ravens. Hyde’s link to Baltimore should be obvious. Baltimore’s coach John Harbaugh is the brother of ex-Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, who was at the helm when San Francisco drafted Hyde 57th overall in 2014. Though admittedly a reach, it’s not as far-fetched as other Twitter theories that have been propagated in recent years.

 

Unless you include an out-of-nowhere breakout by Justin Forsett in 2014, Baltimore hasn’t employed a true workhorse back since the Ray Rice Era. And in today’s NFL, they may not need to. Just look to last year’s Super Bowl participants. New England was led by a three-pronged attack featuring LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and James White while the Falcons turned to a backfield tandem headlined by Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Mixing and matching at running back isn’t unique to Baltimore—it’s the new norm across football.

 

I’m glad we had this talk.

 

Quick Hits: Allen Robinson said he’s had extension talks with the Jaguars this offseason. The 23-year-old struggled last year but tied for the NFL lead with 14 touchdowns in 2015. The Penn State alum is entering the last year of his rookie deal … Jaguars center Brandon Linder cashed in by agreeing to a five-year, $51.7 million extension through 2022. Linder earned PFF’s No. 5 center grade out of 37 qualifiers last season … Lucky Whitehead was let go by the Cowboys last week after being charged with petty larceny and failing to appear in court. However, those charges were dropped after police realized they had Whitehead confused with someone else. Despite having his name cleared, the Cowboys have no plans to bring back Whitehead, who reeled in three catches for 48 yards over 143 offensive snaps last year … The Cowboys made a long-term commitment to La’el Collins, inking him to a two-year, $15.4 million extension through 2019. After beginning his career at guard, Collins will shift to right tackle this year, where he’ll be replacing Doug Free … Despite reports that his weight ballooned to upwards of 280 pounds this offseason, Kelvin Benjamin looked to be in shape when he arrived at Panthers training camp earlier this week. The former first-round pick tallied 63 catches for 941 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns last year … Greg Olsen reported to Panthers camp on Tuesday after briefly considering a holdout. Not wanting to be a distraction following the team’s surprise firing of GM Dave Gettleman, he’s decided to play out the remainder of his contract … As expected, Texans LT Duane Brown is staging a holdout as he seeks a new contract with more guaranteed money. As long as he’s a no-show, the 31-year-old will incur up to $40,000 a day in fines … Ex-Rams running back Tre Mason has been working out in hopes of an NFL comeback. The Auburn alum flamed out quickly following a string of off-field incidents likely brought on by mental health issues … After being placed on season-ending injured reserve due to a neck issue, Dolphins LB Koa Misi has decided to call it quits. Misi, who is still recovering from offseason spinal fusion surgery, recorded 360 tackles and 12 sacks throughout his seven-year career … The Dolphins took a flyer on former All-Pro Alterraun Verner. The 28-year-old spent last year backing up Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves in Tampa Bay … Michael Vick will spend the summer working with the Chiefs as a coaching intern. In Kansas City, he’ll be reunited with his former Eagles head coach Andy ReidAndrew Hawkins has decided to hang up his cleats. The 31-year-old went to camp with New England but knew he’d be a long shot to make the 53-man roster. A Toledo alum, Hawkins is expected to pursue a Ph.D. in economics.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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