The 2020 running back class was stacked to the brim with talent, with J.K. Dobbins being one of the top names on the board. The Ohio State product played well as a rookie and is set to star in the most run-heavy offense in the league. Can J.K. Dobbins turn into a fantasy football superstar, or will he fall short of expectations?
2021 Fantasy Football Outlook: J.K. Dobbins
J.K. Dobbins began his career as the third member of a three-man running back committee. Splitting snaps with Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, the rookie only averaged 5 opportunities per game through the first five games of his career. However, he earned a larger role in Week 6 and never looked back.
Displacing Mark Ingram as the starter, Dobbins recorded 118 carries for 679 yards and seven touchdowns over the final 10 games of the season. When factoring in his receiving work, Dobbins’ 12.8 fantasy points per game would have made him the RB23 if given a full season of work.
It’s worth noting that Dobbins needed absurd efficiency to reach these totals. Lamar Jackson does not throw to his running backs, and it’s hard to see that changing any time soon. This means that nearly all of Dobbins’ fantasy success needs to come on the ground, and he was able to make that work as a rookie. In 2020, Dobbins averaged a staggering 6.0 yards per carry, which probably isn’t going to repeat in 2021.
Dobbins is a talented player, and being the starting running back in Lamar Jackson’s offense is always going to help your efficiency. However, being THAT efficient over a sustained period of time is nearly impossible, so his yards per carry will probably drop closer to the 5.5 range.
Even when he won the starting job, J.K. Dobbins never earned a full-time workload. Gus Edwards was still a major part of the offense, and he just signed a two-year, $9 million contract. He’s going to be around a while, and Baltimore will probably continue using the duo in the same manner as last year.
From Week 7 onwards, Dobbins averaged 12.1 carries per game, while Edwards was down at 10.3 (excluding a game he left early to injury). This means that Dobbins will probably receive 50% of the backfield touches, while Edwards will be down around 40%.
Considering how often Baltimore runs the ball, a 50% market share should still leave Dobbins with approximately 215 carries. In a Lamar Jackson offense, Dobbins should be able to turn that opportunity into 1,185 yards and 11 touchdowns. The biggest red flag, of course, is the passing volume. Targets are king in fantasy football, especially in PPR formats, and Lamar Jackson simply does not throw to running backs.
Since 2019 (Jackson’s first full season as a starter), no individual running back has recorded more than 29 targets in a single season. Dobbins finished 2020 with 24, so let’s say a full season of starting work combined with an additional game gets him to 35 targets. At a 75% catch rate and seven yards per reception, this still only gives him 26 receptions for 185 yards. If these projections are accurate, Dobbins would average approximately 13.5 PPR fantasy points per game, which puts him roughly in the RB15-20 range.
J.K. Dobbins powers through to put the Ravens in front 😤
— ESPN (@espn) January 10, 2021
J.K. Dobbins Fantasy Football Average Draft Position
According to FantasyData, Dobbins is currently the 16th running back off the board, going in the same range as guys like Joe Mixon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Chris Carson. Personally, this is the perfect spot for him, as this is right where I project him to finish.
Baltimore runs the ball better and more often than anyone else in football, so the starting running back is always going to carry a lot of fantasy value. However, the complete lack of passing work does put a clear cap on Dobbins’ ceiling, as he’ll need a Derrick Henry type of workload to overcome the lack of targets. That won’t be happening as long as Gus Edwards is in the picture, and the two-year extension ensures he isn’t going anywhere.
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