Derrick Henry? Josh Jacobs? Answers to Ravens RB question

'First Take' gets heated about Lamar's MVP season (2:21)

Stephen A. Smith and the "First Take" crew debate whether Lamar Jackson's MVP season was a success. (2:21)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Less than two weeks from the start of free agency, the Baltimore Ravens must answer a high-profile question: Who is Lamar Jackson handing the ball off to in 2024?

The running back position is among Baltimore's biggest priorities this offseason. Baltimore's two most productive running backs, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, are scheduled to be free agents on March 13. With promising rookie Keaton Mitchell suffering an ACL tear in his left knee in December, the only healthy experienced running back on the roster is Justice Hill.

The NFL's No. 1 rushing team lacks a No. 1 running back.

"It's up in the air," coach John Harbaugh said of the running back situation at the combine Tuesday. "We don't have a lot of guys under contract right now."

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said at the combine that the team will need to add a couple of running backs and noted that this year's running back draft class isn't as deep as other positions. So, free agency might be the best way to load up the backfield.

The Ravens aren't traditionally big spenders at running back, but there could be some well-priced players because of the number of backs available. Baltimore will have plenty of options from big-name backs (Derrick Henry and Saquon Barkley) to under-the-radar ones (D'Andre Swift and Zack Moss) to potential salary cap cuts (perhaps Nick Chubb), which the Ravens have typically favored because they don't count against a team's compensatory picks. The Ravens have around $13 million in salary cap space.

"[There's] some talented players that we will look at," DeCosta said. "We will definitely have a plan for that position."

Baltimore can take more pressure off of Jackson by adding a hardworking back. The Ravens have led the NFL in rushing in three of the past five seasons, but they've only had one 1,000-yard running back in that time frame. Since Mark Ingram II gained 1,018 yards rushing in 2019, Baltimore hasn't had a running back surpass 850 yards.

Jackson has led the Ravens in rushing for the past five seasons, an NFL record for a quarterback, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau. He has finished as Baltimore's leading rusher in 38 games, two shy of Cam Newton's record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Here is a look at the running backs to watch for the Ravens this offseason:

The headliners

Derrick Henry: In November, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said on his podcast that he was told there was an 85% chance of Henry getting dealt to Baltimore before the 2023 trade deadline. That didn't happen, but buzz is building for Henry to land in Baltimore.

Former Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III wrote on social media: "Derrick Henry should be a Baltimore Raven because he already plays like a Raven."

Since 2019, Henry has rushed for 7,209 yards -- 1,664 more than any other player -- and has run for 68 touchdowns in 72 games. The obvious concern is Henry's age (30) and workload (2,030 carries). But the Ravens love veteran leaders who can positively impact culture, like Odell Beckham Jr. It also doesn't hurt that he's coming off a season where he finished second in rushing yards (1,167).

Saquon Barkley: ESPN's Jeremy Fowler said someone from the Ravens told him, "Could you imagine Saquon Barkley and Lamar Jackson [in] the same backfield?"

Barkley has been among the NFL's best dual threats since the New York Giants selected him with the No. 2 pick in 2018, producing over 1,000 total yards in four of six seasons. But durability is a concern with Barkley, who has missed at least three games in four of the past five seasons, including most of the 2020 season because of a torn ACL.

Josh Jacobs: This could be a boom-or-bust signing. In 2022, Jacobs led the NFL in rushing (1,653 yards) and yards from scrimmage (2,053). Last season, after missing all of training camp and the preseason to protest the franchise tag, Jacobs finished with career lows in games played (13), rushing yards (805), yards per carry (3.5), rushing touchdowns (6), rushing first downs (34) and yards from scrimmage (1,101).

Austin Ekeler: He's been one of the NFL's best at getting into the end zone, but he's coming off a disappointing season. Last season, he averaged a career-worst 3.5 yards per carry and totaled 1,064 yards from scrimmage, his fewest since 2020. After scoring 38 touchdowns in 2021 and 2022, Ekeler was limited to six last season.

Tony Pollard: His past two seasons have been the definition of steady production. Pollard ranked in the top 10 with 2,012 rushing yards (seventh), 52 runs over 10 yards (ninth) and 2,694 total yards from scrimmage (2,694). Although he wasn't as explosive last season, Pollard seems like one of the safer bets in free agency at this position.

Under the radar

D'Andre Swift: This has the makings of being a great fit in terms of value and playing style. Swift is familiar with run-pass option plays and the pistol formation after rushing for a career-high 1,049 yards, which ranked fifth, with the Philadelphia Eagles. He is just one of six running backs last season with 1,000-plus rushing yards and 35-plus receptions. At 25, Swift is also one of the youngest free agent running backs.

Zack Moss: The Ravens have a history of taking notice when players perform well against them, and Moss certainly caught their attention when he rushed for 122 yards in Baltimore last season. A capable stand-in for All-Pro back Jonathan Taylor, Moss was the NFL's third-leading rusher through five weeks last season and finished with 794 yards and five touchdown runs.

Possible salary cap cuts

Nick Chubb: Browns general manager Andrew Berry said the plan is for Chubb to be back in Cleveland this season, but the Browns can save $11.825 million by cutting him. Chubb missed the last 15 games last season after suffering a serious injury to his left knee, the same knee he had reconstructed while at Georgia in 2015. From 2019 to 2022, Chubb averaged 90.6 rushing yards per game, which ranked only behind Henry during that time.

Alvin Kamara: The Saints can free up $11.682 million in salary cap space if they release or trade Kamara after June 1. One of the most electric running backs in the league, he has totaled 8,888 yards from scrimmage since 2017, which ranks only behind Henry. Kamara, who turns 29 in July, finished the season with a career-low 1,160 yards from scrimmage, but he missed the first three games of the season because of a suspension.

Possible returns

J.K. Dobbins: He's one of the most explosive backs in the league when he's healthy. His career average of 5.8 yards per carry is the highest among running backs with at least 200 carries since 2020. But, over the past three seasons, he's been sidelined for 42 of the Ravens' 51 games, including the last 16 last season because of a torn Achilles.