Last season the Ravens took a bit of a leap of faith. The team chose to bet on youth and received mixed results. Brent Urban and Willie Henry flashed the ability to be the type of interior disrupters you can count on. Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley proved not be quite ready and Carl Davis fell somewhere in between. In 2018 the exact same unit returns, some playing for their next contracts and others for their NFL livelihood. Does this group just need more seasoning to reach their ceiling? Or does this group need reinforcements?
Let’s take a look at the roster as it currently stands.
Interior pass rush
The run defense took a definite step back. Now 4.1 yards per carry isn’t too bothersome by most team’s standards, but Baltimore has always throttled the run. Last year’s slippage isn’t all on the defensive line, but injury and inconsistent play certainly played a role.
There was no bigger injury then that of Brandon Williams. His sheer presence gives interior offensive linemen nightmares. The run defense’s downturn is something he takes personally. It’s fair to assume that ypc drops back under 4.0 with a healthy B-Will.
Brent Urban was well on his way to cashing out this offseason before yet another injury ended his season just a few weeks in. He’s back on a one-year deal that represents a worthwhile low-cost bite at the apple. If he can stay healthy *crosses fingers* that pay day is still around the corner.
Willie Henry is one of the most pivotal young players on the team by my estimation. He has more upside as an interior rusher then anybody on the team, and it was absolutely on display last year. Can he take the leap to become a full on game wrecker in 2018?
Chris Wormley may not have had the 2017 he or many others would have expected, but he absolutely looks like a starting caliber 5 technique. From an athletic standpoint he has the profile to excel on all three downs. I don’t know if he’ll ever quite reach that level but his floor looks rock solid.
Bronson Kaufusi is entering a pivotal 3rd season. He had some training camp buzz as a rookie before he lost that season due to injury. He spent much of last season on the sidelines and that’s a bit concerning as it relates to his development as a player. He’s got clear talent, the type of talent that will continue to allow the Ravens to evolve on defense, IF he can put it all together.
Carl Davis is heading into a contract season and hasn’t quite made a mark yet as a NFL player. Davis has the size and strength to be an anchor versus the run and athletic enough to make marginal contributions as a pass rusher. He’s shown flashes of both, especially as a run defender, but hasn’t been leaned on for heavy snaps. There’s no moment better than now for his upside to be on display.
Michael Pierce was rock solid in his 2nd NFL season. While the Ravens need guys to step forward as interior pass rushers, a healthy tandem of Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce is very formidable against the run – a role he’s settled into nicely.
The mystery within this group, is where the pass rush will come from. Willie Henry, Brent Urban and Za’Darius Smith figure to be the guys at the front of the line, but reinforcements are needed. I’m optimistic that one or two guys from this group can step up to fill that void, but if not, the Ravens may have to venture out for help, and that’s easier said than done given a tight budget and a towering list of offensive needs. It could force Ozzie Newsome & Co. to shop at the clearance rack.
Free Agent Options
Dominique Easley, LA Rams
Often injured but not short on talent. The former first rounder has been a productive pass rusher when healthy. Easley shouldn’t command anything long-term or heavy contractual guarantees.
Tom Johnson, Minnesota Vikings
Johnson has been a cog in one of the better defensive lines in the league over the past few years. Interior pressure has been his calling card but his production has faded in the last couple years due to injury. It could be worth it to see what he has left, as long as the price is right.
Tim Settle, DT Virginia Tech
A poor combine may push him into a range that makes him a bargain. Watching him play, you see leverage, short area quickness, strength and versatility. The question is how much do you ding him for the testing. Much like with Orlando Brown Jr, the poor tests, aka questionable athleticism, must be considered. Settle could slide into a range that makes him a steal.
[Note: Mute the annoying music before watching the Tim Settle highlights below.]
Projection: 3rd to 4th round
RJ McIntosh, DT Miami
His get off is evident from the first time you watch him. Very athletic and active guy. Has some upside and with core strength and technique work, McIntosh could be a very disruptive interior rusher.
Projection: 4th round
Foley Fatukasi, DT Uconn
Fatukasi feels like the type of guy the Ravens take on a Day 3 who three years down the line becomes a productive starter and then a year later, leaves in free agency *whistles*. Seriously though, Foley gives me Arthur Jones vibes, big powerful guy that under the proper development, could be a load to move in the run game and collapse the pocket versus the pass.
Projection: 5th round