Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro is a one-cut downfield runner who was drafted in the fourth round this month by the Baltimore Ravens. In other words, he has a shot at being the latest mid-round success story for Gary Kubiak.
During Kubiak's tenure as offensive coordinator in Denver and head coach in Houston, he has had seven running backs top 1,000 yards rushing in a season. All but one -- Clinton Portis -- were drafted in the third round or later.
“All the sudden some back you’ve never heard of has got a thousand yards,” Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said last season when talking about how Kubiak got the most out of his running backs. “It’s kind of the system.”
That "system" has produced such 1,000-yard rushers as Terrell Davis (sixth round), Olandis Gary (fourth round), Mike Anderson (sixth round), Reuben Droughns (third round), Steve Slaton (third round) and Arian Foster (undrafted). Kubiak, who is in his first season as the Ravens offensive coordinator, may need to work that same magic with Taliaferro this season.
At this point, Taliaferro is the No. 3 running back on the Ravens, behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. But there are no guarantees that either of those running backs will be ready at the start of the season. Rice could be suspended by the NFL after being indicted by a grand jury for allegedly striking his then-fiancée and Pierce isn't expected to return to the field until training camp after having offseason shoulder surgery.
Would Taliaferro be ready to carry the load early in the season?
“I’d definitely be confident. It’s football," Taliaferro said. "I’ve been doing it for a long time now. So, I’ve just got to work.”
Taliaferro wasn't a highly sought after prospect despite running for 1,729 yards and 27 touchdowns last season at Coastal Carolina. He was the 13th running back taken in this year's draft.
But Taliaferro was on the Ravens' radar, even though the team never formally met him or worked him out before the draft. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta dropped his name to reporters a week before the draft.
"I mentioned him so that you guys would know I actually tell the truth every once in a while," DeCosta said.
Taliaferro grabbed the Ravens' attention at the Senior Bowl, but it wasn't all for his running.
"The thing I liked about him was he was probably the best back there in pass [protection], which is kind of a dying art these days," DeCosta said. "That tells you about a kid’s mentality, that he’s willing to stick his nose in there."
Even if the Ravens don't need to rely on Taliaferro as a lead back, they will likely need his toughness. He can be valuable on short yardage and on special teams.
Taliaferro is a big back, but not a heavy one.
"I was very impressed with what kind of shape he is in," coach John Harbaugh said after seeing Taliaferro at rookie minicamp. "There is not an ounce of fat on him, and he is 230 pounds."
After the Ravens' ground game struggled mightily, Ravens officials wanted to add another running back this offseason. They showed interest in some free-agent running backs, like LeGarrette Blount, before taking the lesser-known Taliaferro in the middle of this year's draft.
Kubiak's track record has shown it's not about name recognition. It's about how that running back fits in his system.