Continuing our look back at the 2018 rookie class, we turn our attention to Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards. Edwards was far from a household name heading into the season, but he ended it as the lead back on one of the NFL’s most run-heavy offenses. We’ll take a look back at the positives, and negatives, of Edwards’ first year in the NFL. We’ll also look at a few players who enjoyed a similar rookie season to Edwards and see how they followed it up in Year 2 and beyond.
In order to find some comparisons for the first year form of Edwards, I set the RotoViz Screener
to find rookies from 2008 – 2018, and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. I also included the draft pick. The influence of draft pick on a player’s opportunity declines over time, but it’s still relevant heading into a player’s second season. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player.
Let’s look at some of the players that the screener threw up.
Well . . . they’re . . . interesting. To be fair, UDFA RBs have a mountain to climb just getting onto an NFL roster, and when they make the team and contribute anything as a rookie they should be celebrated. Not everyone can be Arian Foster, after all.
So after their initial, erm, impact, how did the above players do in their second seasons?
As I feared, not great Bob.
Thomas Rawls would never be the same player after fracturing his ankle towards the end of his rookie year. His second season was a disappointment. Although he did set a Seahawks record for most yards in a playoff game when he rushed for 161 yards against the Lions, he followed this up with 34 yards on 11 carries against the Falcons the next week. Rawls managed a pedestrian 157 yards in the entire 2017 season (2.7 yards per attempt) and was released at the end of the year. He played one game for the Bengals in 2018.
Chris Ivory was restricted to 12 games combined in his second and third seasons. But he was productive whenever he saw the field. He amassed 591 yards on 119 carries in these years at a respectable 4.96 yards per attempt. Ivory then spent three seasons with the Jets, for whom he rushed 627 times for 2,724 yards, scoring 16 touchdowns. His last three years have not been so good, as Ivory bounced from Jacksonville to Buffalo.
The 2013 season was the last great career highlight for Brandon Bolden from a production point of view. He hasn’t come close to matching his rushing output of 271 yards and three touchdowns. He has only 27 receptions in the five seasons since he hauled in 21 in 2013. Plus, two of the three rushing scores he’s had since then came in the same game, against the Patriots in 2018. That being said, he’s got two Super Bowl rings. So who’s the real big winner here?
As for Juwan Thompson, he was used more as a fullback in his second season, and into his third. He played just eight games in 2016, and the Broncos won the Super Bowl that season largely without his help. He hasn’t played in the NFL since.
Reasons to be Cheerful
Edwards saw 10 carries in his first game of 2018, against the Titans in Week 6. His next three outings saw him amass a mere five in total. But from Week 11 onwards, Edwards had at least 12 carries in seven consecutive games. Indeed, he eclipsed 15 attempts in five straight, before falling to 14 and 12 in Weeks 16 and 17. He had back to back 20-carry games in Weeks 12 and 13.
The Ravens ran the most offensive plays in the NFL last season, and they averaged 34.2 run plays per game with Edwards in the lineup. Edwards commanded a 39 percent market share of the team rush attempts from Week 11 onwards. Quarterback Lamar Jackson had a 38 percent share. Edwards had five games in which he received multiple red zone touches, including five in the Ravens Week 12 win over the Raiders.
Reasons to be Disappointed
The downside for Edwards, at least from a fantasy viewpoint, is considerable. It cannot be overstated how little impact he made on the passing game. Edwards saw two targets all season. To his credit, he caught them both. But his lack of receiving chops can be traced back to college, where he had a grand total of 16 receptions in his 41 games for Miami and Rutgers. Edwards didn’t make up for his lack of touchdowns with a plethora of big plays, either. He had just nine plays of 15 yards or more, with three of them coming in the same game. Edwards had two runs of 15 yards and one for 17 against the Bengals in Week 11.
So Edwards didn’t catch passes, and he didn’t rip off huge gains either. Did he make up for this with a voracious appetite for touchdowns? No, none of that either. He scored twice all season. Despite a healthy(ish) dose of red-zone work, he was not entrusted with a single goal-line carry by the Ravens. Not one. Edwards managed a single RB1 week in 2018. He finished as the RB12 in Week 11. While he was among the leaders in carries during this time, he was practically fantasy irrelevant. The image below shows some comparable players during the closing stretch of the 2018 campaign.
Most people are old enough to remember how, after a strong end to the 2017 season, Alex Collins enjoyed some popularity among the fantasy community heading into this season. Collins was, of course, a massive disappointment. The leading rusher for the Ravens is fast becoming the Spinal Tap drummer spot in the NFL. In the last four seasons, four different players have led the team in rushing.
The Ravens could be about to lose Collins, Ty Montgomery, and Buck Allen to free agency. This could leave Edwards with only Kenneth Dixon as a companion on the team depth chart. Dixon has had issues with health and availability, which as I write this could make Edwards the favorite for the early down work heading into 2019. However, given how little the Ravens have invested in Edwards (he was a UDFA, after all), there is little doubt in my mind that they will look for a chance to upgrade at this spot in the offseason. This makes it far from a lock that Edwards will even be a Raven, let alone a leading member of their offense.
Mock drafters are either racked with similar feelings, or they don’t think that an RB who doesn’t catch the ball and doesn’t score touchdowns is a truly worthwhile fantasy asset. Edwards’ current ADP among mock drafters is the RB37, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Even this seems a bit steep for me, with eight months until the next season. The Ravens are a team whose offseason moves on offense will garner a lot of attention