2016 Positional Preview: Linebackers

Tale of the Tape 2016 Positional Preview: Linebackers

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Paul Lukoskie continues his preview of training camp 2016. See previous editions here:

2016 Positional Preview: Tight Ends and Wide Receivers

2016 Positional Preview: Running Backs

2016 Positional Preview: Secondary

2016 Positional Review: Linebackers

While there is a big question mark regarding who is going to start beside C.J. Mosley at the WILL linebacker position, the entire linebacking unit should be one of the Ravens strengths in 2016. I was a little surprised to see them release Daryl Smith, but considering his age, price tag, and obvious deficiencies in coverage, the release made sense. It may be addition by subtraction because now the Ravens are forced to go with younger and more explosive players like Arthur Brown and Zach Orr.

Personally, I’ve wanted to see the defense get younger and more explosive for a few years now. I’m hoping that them parting ways with D. Smith, Courtney Upshaw, and Chris Canty is their way of trying to achieve more athleticism on the defensive front.

Returning Players: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za’Darius Smith, Chris Carter, Brennan Beyer, Zach Orr, CJ Mosley, Albert McClellan, and Arthur Brown.

Newcomers: Cavellis Luckett, Patrick Onwuasor, Kamalei Correa, Matt Judon, Victor Ochi, and Mario Ojemudia.

2015 Recap

The 2015 Baltimore Ravens defense, as noted in previous Russell Street Report Positional Reviews, was dreadful. If there was a statistic that showed the number of big plays given up to lose games, they would have been at the top (or bottom depending how you look at it) of the league. The entire season was plagued by an inadequate pass rush, missed assignments, and poor coverage ability. In fact, the word that often comes to mind regarding the 2015 defensive unit – especially the defensive front – was “sluggish”. They looked slow and timid. All told, opponents averaged 4.0 yards per carry against the 2015 defensive unit. Opponents also completed just under 65% of passes against the Ravens last year.

The leading tackler was Daryl Smith with 121 total tackles. Smith also produced 3.0 sacks. He was primarily exposed as a coverage linebacker, which seemed to be addressed towards the end of the season when they started lining safety Kendrick Lewis up at some linebacker spots in coverage packages. Statistically speaking, Mosley was not awful from an individual contributor’s perspective. Mosley had 116 total tackles, 4.0 sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, a defensive touchdown, and seven passes defensed.

Elvis Dumervil led the team with 6.0 sacks and after the season was over, admitted to playing hurt most of the year. I think that, coupled with Terrell Suggs being out for what amounted to the entire season (he was hurt in Week 1 against Denver), was the main culprit for Doom’s lack of production as a pass rusher. Lawrence Guy and Tim Jernigan pitched in with 4.5 sacks and 4.0 sacks, respectively. The bright spot was Za’Darius Smith who produced 5.5 sacks in limited snaps.

2016 Outlook – Edge Rushers

Speaking of Za’Darius Smith, I am really excited about his development and upside. Prior to the Ravens taking him in the 4th round of the 2015 draft, I remembered watching some footage of his college teammate Bud Dupree (who went in the first round to Pittsburgh in 2015) and coming away super impressed with the guy on the other side of the defensive line – Za Smith. He was one of my favorite draft picks for the last few years and I believe that he is just scratching the surface of how good of a defender he could be. I hope the Ravens turn him loose this year because he’s got the size (6’5” 270-lbs) and explosiveness to be something special. I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see him splitting snaps with Suggs as the Ravens try to limit the amount of time the veteran is on the field.

Za'Darius Smith and the Ravens pass rush sack Michael Vick

AP Photo

Both Dumervil and Suggs are on the downside of their careers and their performance this upcoming season will play a large part in their respective futures with the team. Suggs is one of the Ravens’ all-time greats, but at his age and coming off of an Achilles tear, I’d be surprised if he was an above average pass-rusher this year.

I kind of feel the same way about Doom as I do Suggs. Doom has always been a “chip on the shoulder” type of pass-rusher because he’s only 5’11”, but unless he can regain that initial burst that made him such a formidable pass-rusher, I think he could have another 6-8-sack season as opposed to a 17-sack season like he had in 2014. I also think the age and lack of explosiveness from both Suggs and Doom are big reasons why the Ravens spent three draft picks on defensive pass-rushers this past April.

Kamalei Correa isn’t a sexy pick. He’s not what a lot of fans were hoping for in the 2nd round, but the pick just makes sense. The Ravens needed an explosive edge rusher and the 6’3” 245-lb Correa is certainly that. The Ravens are also looking for young guys to step up and be leaders on and off the field. Correa is a no-nonsense type of guy, but you can see that he has a lot of fun on the field. When I watched his post-draft interviews, he reminded me of guys I served in the military with. I think he is a little raw with his technique, but the natural talent and explosiveness is there. My hope is that the Ravens don’t try to get cute with him and move him all over the field. Let him line up and get after the quarterback.

I’m also really excited about Matt Judon, the small school pass-rusher from Grand Valley State. Judon produced 20 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last year and his explosiveness was on display at the combine with a 4.7 second 40-yard dash and 35” vertical jump. At 6’3” and 275-lbs, that’s really moving. Physically, I think Judon compares pretty well to Suggs and Z. Smith, so I think we can see what the Ravens are trying to do with their edge rushers. They want guys that are tall, explosive, and can flex to a lot of different positions. This has made many fans – including myself – wonder if the Ravens are trying to transition to a 4-3 base defensive alignment.

Undrafted free agent Victor Ochi should also get every chance to make this squad. He was incredibly explosive as a pass rusher during his tenure at Stony Brook. He was also very impressive leading up to the draft. Ozzie Newsome has done wonders with finding undrafted gems and I think Ochi could be the next one. Depending on injuries, I think Ochi may start the season off on the practice squad, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move up to the active roster before the season ends.

2016 Outlook – Inside Linebackers

I don’t think anyone is unseating Mosley. He’s one of the best linebackers in the NFL right now and he is also going to be wearing the “green dot” this year, which means he will have the task of being on the field for every defensive snap.

The other inside linebacker spot is going to be very interesting for a few different reasons. The first reason is that without Daryl Smith, the Ravens are going to have to look for Albert McClellan, Arthur Brown, or Zach Orr to win that spot. Initially, I would have predicted Orr wins that battle, but Brown played a fair Arthur-Brown-Warm-upsamount of snaps towards the end of the season last year and I cannot discount his athleticism. Brown has been a major disappointment since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft, but as far as I can tell, I don’t think there is a more explosive or athletic linebacker on the team. McClellan has some experience as a starter, but his ability on special teams is what really keeps him on the squad.

Cavellis Luckett may make an impact as a special teams player, but I would expect him to spend a year or two on the practice squad. He’s built similarly to guys like Stephon Tulloch (5’11” 240-lbs), but Luckett is rumored to have surprising speed and quickness.

Lastly, I also think that Patrick Onwuasor is a very interesting prospect. He’s another small school player, but he was predominately a safety in college. He’s a bigger guy (around 225-lbs) and based on his roster information and where he was playing during minicamp and OTA’s, I have to believe that the coaching staff sees him as more of a coverage linebacker. I think that’s a great idea and I applaud the coaching staff for thinking outside of the box a bit with their roster makeup. The concept does work and Deone Buchanon of the Arizona Cardinals is a great example of a safety/linebacker hybrid.

Guys like Brennan Beyer, Mario Ojemudia, and Chris Carter will get their shots to make the squad, but I don’t see them as much more than practice squad guys for this season.

Who’s In? Who’s Out?

• Elvis Dumervil – In, Starter
• Terrell Suggs – In, Starter
• Za’Darius Smith – In, Starter
• Kamalei Correa – In, Contributor
• Matt Judon – In, Contributor
• C.J. Mosley – In, Starter, possible defensive captain
• Zach Orr – In, Starter, Special Teams
• Arthur Brown – In, Contributor, Special Teams
• Albert McClellan – In, Special Teams
• Victor Ochi – Practice Squad
• Brennan Beyer – Practice Squad
• Patrick Onwuasor – Practice Squad
• Chris Carter – Out
• Cavellis Luckett – Out
• Mario Ojedmudia – Out

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Paul Lukoskie

About Paul Lukoskie

Paul - a Charm City native - has been an avid football fan since he was a little kid. As former player he has a ton of experience in the locker room, on the field, and in the film room. Paul geeks out on the draft process and maintains an active big board throughout the season. He regularly contributes analytical pieces on the RSR forum and is constantly providing Ravens fans with collegiate players to check out. More from Paul Lukoskie

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