Ravens Need to Better Fill the “Will”

Street Talk Ravens Need to Better Fill the “Will”

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This group is chock-full of potential, especially when it comes to rushing the passer. It also was the biggest culprit in the Ravens’ uncharacteristic slippage defending the run last season. Inconsistencies setting the edge, size and experience issues at Will linebacker led to teams having a surprising amount of success running the football at times. This is a group I expect to remain largely intact but it will be interesting to see how roster spots 7 through say 9 or 10 turn out.

Let’s take a look at the roster as it currently stands.

Under Contract

C.J. Mosley

Terrell Suggs

Kamalei Correa

Albert McClellan

Tyus Bowser

Za’Darius Smith

Tim Williams

Matt Judon

Bam Bradley

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Patrick Onwuasor

Unrestricted Free Agents

Steven Johnson

Needs – Starting Will (Weak side) linebacker

Father time is typically undefeated but Suggs has continued to hand him L’s. It was a bit concerning that his heir wasn’t in place but the Ravens have done well to stock the edge with the type of talent that should be able to meet the challenge when it comes. The focus now should be on preserving Suggs through the season in order to give him rest and get the young guys much needed reps. Good luck with that, Harbs…

Part of the reason we can all rest a little bit easier with the state of the Ravens edge position post-Suggs is the breakout of Matt Judon. Coming into 2017 I felt Judon showed the flashes of being a quality starter, capable of impacting the run and pass and he did just that. He even showed more comfort in pass coverage then I initially expected. At 25, Judon is a foundational piece of the Ravens defense going forward.

Mosley makes for an interesting offseason case. He’s been a very productive player throughout his career and is only 25 years old. Is he worth what players of his production level command on the open market, is the question. What makes this case even more compelling is the cap-strapped Ravens could save as much as $4 million in space by extending him this offseason per our cap guru Brian McFarland. The team usually doesn’t operate in a rush to re-sign players, opting to let most get to free agency and peek around at the market. With the enormous pressure to win in 2018 coupled with the lack of ideal avenues to create cap space, you wonder if that creates the sort of leverage that ends in a Mosley extension before the offseason is over.

The Ravens need to get bigger at the Will linebacker position. “Peanut” Onwuasor didn’t lack physicality there last year, he just didn’t have the bulk to hold up. Now come with me for minute, be open minded…

What if I told you the answer could already be on the roster? He’s big, athletic, with the lateral movement skills to be a plus in coverage. He’s also currently in a log jam at his current position. Tyus Bowser could conceivably play the Will on first and second down and rush from a multitude of platforms on 3rd down. Now I know the groans are coming, we already have a horror story in Kamalei Correa on the roster. We saw what happened with Paul Kruger, but I’m not saying he makes a full-on position change. I’m saying he becomes the Ravens’ version of Haason Reddick…just sleep on it guys.

Speaking of Correa, what happens here? In my opinion it’s pretty clear he needs to move back to the edge. My rosier outlook on how he’d transition short term to inside backer ended up bursting into flames. His contract isn’t prohibitive over the next two seasons so while he’d be a bit expensive for the 4th or 5th guy on the edge it wouldn’t hurt that much as long as he could chip in on special teams, which he does. He also still has upside as a rusher due to his athleticism and motor. Just as easy as that scenario I could also see him moved this offseason for a receiver or tight end that didn’t pan out elsewhere like say a Leonte Carroo or Braxton Miller. Depending on what teams do in the draft, that list would likely expand. Correa is a talented player and I hope he breaks through here in Baltimore. While a lot rests on his shoulders to ensure that, it will be up to the team to put him in the best position to succeed.

The guy I had specifically in mind when discussing preserving Suggs is Tim Williams. He has some work to do in the weight room for sure but a guy with the type of burst, bend and nuanced feel for rushing the passer that he has should be playing on 3rd downs- a lot of 3rd downs.

[Catch Up On My Other Positional Breakdowns Here]

Z.Smith bounced back in 2017 and provided some of the interior pass rush we hoped for. He now enters a contract year still in a crowded room on the edge. If he can improve his edge setting he could be very attractive to teams that run a 3-4 scheme in 2019. At the same time the Ravens would probably be more motivated to give those outside reps to Bowser and Williams. Smith’s role as an interior rusher on 3rd down does carry value. I’d imagine if the price was right he could be extended to play that specific role.

The chances were probably high that if Bam Bradley stayed healthy last season he would have been given the opportunity to win the Will linebacker position. He reportedly has supporters in the cave and played well during training camp and preseason. At the very least he can chip in this on special teams. Certainly, a guy to keep an eye on.

Onwuasor proved to be stretched too thin (pun intended) as a full-time starter at inside linebacker. He didn’t necessarily play poorly but his physical limitations did show up. He also didn’t show the type of coverage skills laterally you would expect from a former safety. For now, his ideal role should probably be on special teams where he can use his straight-line speed to run and hit while the rest of his game catches up.

McClellan may end up a casualty to a numbers crunch. The veteran has long provided plus special teams work and the versatility to play inside and outside backer but the team has drastically improved their depth on the edge and need more then what McClellan can provide inside. He’s also coming off an ACL injury. I think odds are he’s released and maybe brought back at the minimum depending how the position shapes out before camp.

Ravens Linebacker

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

Free Agent Options

Navorro Bowman – This would be a tremendous fit for the Ravens. Bowman may not be where he was athletically pre-injury but he’s still a very snap-worthy defender. Especially versus the run, where he’d slide in well beside Mosley at the will.

Jerrell Freeman – He’s coming off injury and will have to miss the first 2 games of 2018 due to suspension. He’d be an intriguing veteran add due to his abilities in coverage while being able to more than hold his own versus the run when healthy. Think 2013-2015 Daryl Smith.

Karlos Dansby – Much like Freeman, Dansby would offer a veteran presence that has traditionally excelled in coverage. The 30+ pounds he would add to the Will linebacker spot would help in the run game as well.

Draft Options

Rashaan Evans, Alabama – This selection only happens if Mosley isn’t long for Baltimore. For 2018 it wouldn’t be an ideal use of resources unless Mosley were moved. Having two high-snap guys at inside linebacker acquired with premium picks would be tough, but if Mosley’s asking price proves to be north of what the Ravens are willing to offer they could slot Evans into that 3rd down Mike role in 2019. Evans has a blend of athleticism, physicality and fundamentals that make him one of the safer picks in this class.

Projection: 1st round

Genard Avery, Memphis – A freakish, versatile linebacker that wouldn’t have a seamless slide into the Will position. He’s short for the position but has great lower body strength with power to his game. He;ll be able to chase down plays from anywhere on the field and offers coverage upside. The most intriguing piece to his game is his ability to chip in as a pass rusher. He needs some refining so I don’t know if how great he’d as a starter in 2018 in this role specifically, and would be more of a high-ceiling selection.

Projection:  4th round

Andre Smith, LB North Carolina – Think Bart Scott here. Smith will throw his body around and do all the grunt work. He’s a very physical player and solid enough athlete but you’re stretching it if you want him to play on 3rd down. He could maybe do some edge-setting in a pinch, and will not be a priority with some teams opting for more athleticism at the position. The Ravens have done a nice job addressing that over the past couple years and could use a thumper at a good value.

Projection: 6th round

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Carey Stevenson

About Carey Stevenson

Carey is a driven sports enthusiast from Norfolk, Virginia. He's looked upon by all his friends and family as an advisor, provider of on the spot scouting reports and the occasional dusting off of the old crystal ball. He is a loyal and devoted Ravens fan that spends countless hours in his war room/bedroom going over tape, scouting reports and potential free agents as if he's actually the one making draft and game day decisions. He's a sports management major that looks forward to the day that he may actually be called upon to make some of the decisions he analyzes as if life depended on it. He is a critical yet rational thinker that is always in search of more knowledge about the game.  More from Carey Stevenson

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