Baltimore Ravens: Defensive Preview – Terrell Suggs leads youth
With the seventh ranked defense last year, you could say even with a few losses, the Baltimore Ravens got younger and better on defense with their new additions through free agency and the draft. With their loaded defensive heavy offseason, the Ravens best bet is to play complementary football on offense and let the defense do their thing. It is scary to think the Ravens defense that was number one in the league half way through the season last year is getting solid depth and future starters to replace veterans like Terrell Suggs. Also getting more depth is necessary due to the injuries the Ravens have had in the past and even before the 2017 season. Tavon Young tore an ACL during minicamp so while it hurts the defense, the Baltimore Ravens knew ahead of time to load up on secondary through the draft and free agency. I think the decision to go defensive was a wise one as the other teams in the AFC North are getting better offensively so a top 5 defense will help to go against teams like the Steelers, Bengals, and Browns.
The nose tackle and defensive tackle positions are pretty much set with Brandon Williams at the nose and Michael Pierce playing defensive tackle and some nose tackle. The only question is the defensive end position with Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi competing for that spot. Other depth for the defensive line includes Willie Henry, Chris Wormley (Michigan), Carl Davis, and undrafted rookie Patrick Ricard (Maine) should battle it out and be impact defenders (especially against the run). Kaufusi, Wormley, and Henry could provide some sacks on the defensive line with Pierce and Williams being the big run stoppers on the defense. This should be a better defensive line than last year.
Replacing Suggs is something the Baltimore Ravens are prepared for by adding a lot of young talent to compete for the other OLB spot this year. Even when Suggs had the bicep injury, he played through it. While he was not as productive, he had eight sacks playing injured. Za’Darius Smith has to improve to make the team with this much competition. I think I give the edge to Matt Judon but Tim Williams (Alabama) definitely has the talent to be the starter and be an impact player if he can stay clean off the field. As a pass rushing specialist, Williams could be a steal based on talent as he had 20 sacks in his career at Alabama.
Tyus Bowser (Houston) should have the edge playing Sam linebacker but Albert McClellan should provide solid depth to play the hybrid role as well. More depth for this position includes undrafted free agents Boseko Lokombo (Oregon) and Randy Allen (South Alabama). Bowser could be an impact role player in coverage and as an edge defender with huge upside.
At inside linebacker, C.J. Mosely is the starting LB but the other spot should favor converted LB Kamalei Correa. Even though Correa was an edge rusher at Boise State, he has the athleticism and instincts to be a good number two linebacker to Mosely and can be an effective blitzer. Depth to the inside linebacker position includes converted S Anthony Levine, Patrick Onwuasor, Lamar Louis, Brennen Beyer, and undrafted rookies Bam Bradley (Pitt) and converted S Donald Payne (Stetson). In addition, since Zach Orr is still a free agent, I would not rule out a return of Orr unless the Baltimore Ravens sign an offensive lineman instead due to the lack of cap room.
The Ravens knew the cornerback position was a weakness in 2016 and have tried to resolve it with a few draft picks and signings in this year’s offseason. Jimmy Smith is a star cornerback when healthy; however, the problem is he has a history of injuries. Drafting Marlon Humphrey should show that he could be the future starter, especially with Young’s injury. Humphrey has the size, speed, physicality that is ideal for a starting corner and was the third most avoided corner in SEC last year, according to Pro Football Focus (https://twitter.com/PFF/status/857778858799583237). Some free agent signings that help with depth include Brandon Carr (Cowboys), who can start as a durable corner on the outside, and Brandon Boykin competing for the nickel corner spot. The rest of the cornerback depth includes Robertson Daniel, Al-Hajj Shabazz, Sheldon Price, and undrafted free agent Jaylen Hill (Jacksonville State). Maurice Canady suffered an injury during training camp but since it is unknown, his status for 2017 is unclear. I think the Ravens feel good about the depth they have at corner now compared to last year but if more injuries occur, this could be the downfall of the defense.
The strength of the defense is easily the safety position. With All Pro starters like Eric Weddle and now Tony Jefferson (Cardinals), this helps the back end and the defense tremendously. According to Pro Football Focus (https://twitter.com/PFF/status/882015101372551172), Jefferson was the best safety in run stopping in 2016. Ladarius Webb provides veteran depth as the converted hybrid nickel corner/ free safety. Other depth at safety includes Chuck Clark (Virginia Tech) and undrafted free agent Daniel Henry (New Mexico). The duo of Weddle and Jefferson should be among the top 2-3 safety duos in the NFL and among the top 10 secondary’s (seventh best secondary according to PFF) heading into the 2017 NFL season.
Overall, this younger and more talented defense should help the Baltimore Ravens keep the opposing team’s scores lower to help the offense win more games to lead them to a playoff berth in 2017.