With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at what we should expect from the Ravens starting running back and NFL’s best Irish step dancer.
Collins Was a Workhorse Down the Stretch
During the better part of Joe Flacco‘s first seven seasons, the Ravens mostly featured the likes of he who shall not be named and Justin Forsett at running back, but they’ve cycled through backs since 2015, struggling to find a true identity on the ground (Flacco has accordingly played some of the worst football of his career over that span). However, the Ravens rushing offense improved to seventh in DVOA in 2017 after failing to rank higher than 18th since 2012, and second-year back Alex Collins deserves plenty of credit for the turnaround. He posted a 212-973-6 line on the ground to go along with 23-187-0 through the air.
Collins was quite efficient in a plethora of ways in 2017 (all metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus):
- Third-best Elusive Rating among 17 backs with 200-plus attempts.
- Only Kareem Hunt and LeSean McCoy ripped off more runs of 15-plus yards.
- One of 13 backs to average over 1.7 yards per route run.
- Fourth-most yards after contact per attempt (3.0) among 17 backs with 200-plus attempts.
Collins averaged 16.7 rushes and 3.8 targets per game from Week 8 on last season, and workhorse backs who average at least 20 combined rushes and targets per game have historically been fantasy-friendly assets.
The Ravens Haven’t Added Any New Backs
The Ravens moved forward without signing or drafting a running back this offseason, and they released former third-down back Danny Woodhead. Former fourth-round pick Kenneth Dixon flashed three-down ability as a rookie, but is returning from both a torn meniscus and six-game suspension that handed Collins the job in the first place. Dixon or Javorius Allen could remain involved in a pass-game role, but that role produced an average of just 9.6 touches per game from Week 8 on last season.
Late-round featured backs have historically provided value at reduced ownership compared to first-round backs, and while Collins might seem like your everyday 5-foot-10, 217-pound fifth-rounder from measurables standpoint, he proved himself as a tackle-breaking playmaker in both the run and pass game last season.
🗣️The Ravens didn't draft a RB and Alex Collins is a baller pic.twitter.com/KVzVYbDxXt
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 2, 2018
Workhorses are better fantasy assets than one-dimensional backs with limited pass- or run-game roles, and following Baltimore’s lack of offseason moves, Collins is in position to work as the featured back. The return of starting guards Marshall Yanda and Alex Lewis also doesn’t hurt.
The biggest concern for Collins is whether or not he can clean up his pass protection. While he finished last season as PFF’s No. 4 overall running back, he ranked among their bottom-10 backs in pass blocking. Still, Dixon finished 2016 as their second-worst pass blocking back, while Allen ranked a middling 20th out of 50 qualified backs last season.
Flacco’s Running Backs Have Been Good Even When He Hasn’t
Flacco is the heavy favorite to once again work as the Ravens’ starting quarterback in 2018 despite the addition of first-round pick Lamar Jackson, and while there’s certainly a debate to be had regarding Flacco’s ability to play even above-average football for an extended stretch, he’s proved capable of facilitating high-performing fantasy backs throughout his career (PPR scoring):
- 2008: RB23 (LeRon McClain)
- 2009: RB2 (Ray Rice)
- 2010: RB6 (Rice)
- 2011: RB1 (Rice)
- 2012: RB4 (Rice)
- 2013: RB23 (Rice)
- 2014: RB8 (Justin Forsett)
- 2015: RB33 (Javorius Allen)
- 2016: RB24 (Terrance West)
- 2017: RB21 (Collins)
While uneven committees, combined with Flacco’s own struggles, have helped nosedive the team’s most productive back each year since 2015, but their floor has still been that of a top-24 fantasy back in each of the past two seasons.
Collins is currently the RB19 in Fantasy Football Calculator’s PPR ADP for a season in which he’s positioned to receive consistent bell-cow usage for the first time in his career.
Head coach John Harbaugh gave Collins a vote of confidence after a 2018 NFL Draft in which the Ravens failed to select a running back, saying “obviously, we have a starter and Alex has proven that.”
Regardless of if Dixon or Allen is able to maintain a pass-down role, Collins’ starting role should yield plenty of fantasy-friendly touch volume and goal-line work.
You can use our tools to research more player- or team-specific questions for yourself, and be sure to check out The Action Network for more in-depth NFL analysis.
Pictured: Alex Collins
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire – USA TODAY Sports