The Ravens offense could have an entirely different look next season. Michael Crabtree and John Brown headline a re-shaped receiver core, which will likely include a high draft pick as well. The three leading receivers from last season are no longer on the roster.
The offensive line will also see some shuffling with Austin Howard departing. Marshall Yanda, Alex Lewis and Kenneth Dixon will be returning from injury.
A passing game that ranked 29th in the league last season should be much-improved. However, the offense should continue to center around the run game. Specifically, third-year back Alex Collins.
Prior to the 2017-18 season, very few Ravens fans new who Alex Collins was. The Ravens signed Collins to the practice squad following his release from the Seattle Seahawks. Many expected Collins to merely provide depth in the backfield and possibly fill a change-of-pace role. However, he proved to be much more.
Collins had a breakout season in his sophomore campaign. In 15 games, he rushed for 973 yards on 212 carries, good for an average YPC of 4.6, per ESPN. He also caught 23 passes for 187 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins also graded out as the number one back in the league with a score of 89.7.
Alex Collins was the NFL's highest graded runner in 2017! pic.twitter.com/VkNAsS0NLf
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 28, 2018
What is even more impressive is that Collins put up these numbers behind a patched offensive line. If Marshall Yanda and Alex Lewis were in the lineup, Collins would have surely found more room to run. Defenses were able to key in on Collins because of a lackluster passing game, which also worked against his favor. If not for these factors, along with fumbling issues in the first few weeks of the season, Collins would have surely amassed 1,000 yards on the ground.
For much of the season, the offense went as Collins did. Collins’ best performances coincided with the Ravens’ highest scoring outputs.
In a 40-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Thursday, October 26, Collins had one of his better games of the season. He rushed for 113 yards on 18 carries for a YPC of 6.3. While he did not find the endzone, he also had 30 yards through the air. He consistently gashed through the Dolphins defense, and they had no answer for slowing him down.
Nor did the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Sunday Night, divisional matchup on December 12. Although the Ravens lost by a score of 38-39, Collins showed out on national television. Throughout the entire game, he made defenders miss tackles with power and elusive moves. His explosive ability in space was on full display. Collins ran for 120 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. He also caught 2 passes for 46 yards. His 166 scrimmage yards were instrumental in the Ravens scoring 38 points, their third highest mark of the season.
Kenneth Dixon, the former fourth-round pick from Lousiana Tech, will be eligible to play next season after missing the entire 2017-18 season due to suspension and a torn meniscus injury. Although he is young and talented, Collins should retain his role as the feature back.
It is a role that Collins has earned. He was the team’s best offensive player last season. On a roster lacking talent and playmakers, Collins was the lone bright spot. At just 23 years old, he has the potential to be the Ravens best running back since the Ray Rice era, and one of the premier backs in the NFL.
The Ravens may have found themselves a diamond in the rough when they acquired Collins last season. They should continue to build around him as the feature back and centerpiece of the offense.