Adding another pass rusher is among the least of the worries the Baltimore Ravens have as the NFL draft – which is now only two weeks away – approaches.
The two starting spots are already set with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, a duo that was much better during the first half of the 2013 season than they were during the latter part.
In fact, Suggs and Dumervil had just one sack each in the final seven games of last season.
After those two, role players such as second-year linebacker John Simon, Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee and Adrian Hamilton (missed 2013 due to injury) round out a deep bunch.
While the Ravens aren’t lacking in outside linebacker depth, they are lacking in pass rushing quality.
The trio of Upshaw, Simon and McPhee combined for just 3.5 sacks last season, with Simon only touching the field for three defensive snaps.
Baltimore doesn’t need to address the position during the draft, but if the value is there to find another legitimate pass rusher, it’d be hard to pass up. After all, the ability of a defense to get to quarterbacks is paramount in today’s NFL.
FIRST ROUND OPTION
Anthony Barr, UCLA – Right now there’s only one outside linebacker that figures to be good enough to be worthy of a pick at 17 for the Ravens (excluding rushers such as Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, who promise to be off the board when the Ravens are on the clock). If key players at positions of need such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Taylor Lewan – among others – are off the board, Baltimore may execute the true best player available tactic, and Barr could be an option if available.
Overhyped heading into the 2013 season, Barr is still a top edge rusher in this draft class, as his natural athleticism and only two years of experience as a defensive player make him a worthy project. Getting drafted by a team with two quality edge rushers like Baltimore would be an ideal scenario for Barr, as until he improves his rush repertoire, he likely will only be used as a situational rusher.
While a developmental player, Barr can still contribute as part of a rotation in year one as a rush-first linebacker.
EDGE RUSHERS/INSIDE LINEBACKERS
Kyle Van Noy, BYU – Projecting best as an off-ball linebacker in the NFL, Van Noy doesn’t have the consistent pass rush capabilities to be a full-time outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He does, however, excel in space, and while he is just an average athlete, Van Noy can turn and run with tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.
He is also a successful forward mover who sheds blocks well, which could lead to reps on the inside in a 3-4 defense as well. Van Noy wouldn’t vastly improve Baltimore’s pass rushing, but as an overall defender, he’d be a versatile piece to add to the mix.
Carl Bradford, Arizona State – Rarely do sub-6’2 edge rushers have success in the NFL (Dumervil is one of the few outliers), which already puts Bradford (6’1, 250) at a disadvantage. But few pass rushers in this draft class are as strong during their pursuit to the quarterback as Bradford, and he plays his lack of height to his advantage to get leverage on blockers.
Bradford’s stout, strong frame could lead to him being shifted to the inside as well in the NFL, as his average athleticism but powerful playing style suits well for a run-stopping, two-down linebacker in a 3-4 defense, which Baltimore could use. Like Van Noy, if drafted by Baltimore, Bradford can be utilized in several ways.
LATE ROUND OPTIONS
Ronald Powell, Florida – A fringe top-100 pick at best, Powell’s injury history derailed a once promising college career. But when healthy in 2013, Powell displayed, at times, elite edge rushing capability, with a violent pursuit of the quarterback and enough hip fluidity to bend the edge.
His burst off the line is inconsistent, and he was often the last Florida front seven player off the snap last season. As a standup ‘backer, that problem would be partially neutralized going forward. An inexperienced, oft-injured prospect that is a true high risk, high reward player, if Powell reaches his potential, he can be a rare case of a mid-round edge rusher making a noticeable impact in the NFL.
Denicos Allen, Michigan State – He’ll never win any size competitions (5-10, 225) and won’t ever be a rush-first linebacker, but as a day three pick, Allen is still a viable asset for any team as an experienced edge player whose instincts compensate for his size.
When he commits to a ball carrier, he rarely gets washed out of the play, and finishes pursuits on a consistent basis. His play recognition outweighs his physical capabilities, and he projects as a player who will only be used rotationally at best, but can make an impact when on the field. As a late-round pick, Allen’s scrappy play and consistent pursuit should allow him to make an impact on special teams, which is where most of his NFL playing time will likely take place.