The exodus of defensive players from the No.1 ranked Baltimore defense had the entire fanbase in a state of shock a little less than 24 hours ago. There was every possibility of this, but now the reality has hit home. Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, and C.J. Mosley – all gone.
As I mentioned in a tweet, there is still a solid defense left intact though.
On the #Ravens defense, the cupboard is not bare. Not by a long shot. Humphrey, Pierce, Judon, Jefferson are strong core pieces. The CB depth is still the strength of this group. Plenty of work for the FO to add other pieces but let's not act like the D will fall off a cliff.
— Dev Panchwagh (@devpanchwagh) March 12, 2019
Still plenty of talent all over this unit. In fact, at the time I write this article, the team just signed Earl Thomas to a stunning 4-year, $55 million deal, which definitely helps the unit make up significant ground.
However, the defense will still need to replace the leadership and proven play-making ability that Mosley, Suggs, and Weddle brought to the team.
The Ravens have faced a similar rip-and-replace scenario before. Back in 2002, the defense was really decimated. Rod Woodson, Sam Adams, Duane Starks, Jamie Sharper, Rob Burnett, and Tony Siragusa were vaporized like the victims of the Infinity Gauntlet.
It’s all about depth in the NFL. The good franchises are able to draft and cultivate talent to replace homegrown talent year in and year out.
It’s possible. For the Ravens to overcome some of these hits, their young guns have to step up. Here are three players to watch closely:
It’s easy to identify Kenny Young as the next up-and-coming player on defense. When he played, he flashed. He displayed terrific sideline-to-sideline speed and pursuit ability. He was surprisingly able to shed blocks to play the run. He is already a proven space player who has the quick feet to add dynamic coverage range that Mosley simply didn’t present.
There were stretches where he was all over the field to play the pass and pressure the pocket. In particular, he was the standout defender in his Week 3 start against the Broncos, when he replaced Mosley due to injury.
Athletically, there’s a lot to like about Young. The concern is, can he hold up in obvious running downs and play the snaps required of a three-down defender? Young is more of an athlete than a brawler. Wink Martindale will have to figure out how to get the most out of Young, but the upside is there for him to be a three-down defender.
Willie Henry is practically a forgotten man among the current defensive group. But he shouldn’t be. Henry was a key cog for the front line during the 2017 season. Getting him back from a season-ending hernia injury is the equivalent of signing a free agent.
Henry was a stalwart for the interior pass rush for most of the season, creating pressures and bolstering the sub-package pressure until he wore down at the end of the season. He was able to hold his own in a two-gap scheme despite having the game to play in a one-game scheme. Moreover, he improved his technique and played with consistency on every snap.
Henry’s health continues to be his biggest roadblock to becoming a force for the defensive line. When healthy, he’s surprisingly capable as a run stopper and gives the defense disruptive ability that they haven’t had since Timmy Jernigan was in the fold.
At the age of 24, he’s still a kid who has the chance to be a major chess piece for Martindale’s defensive front.
I’ll admit, when it comes to Tim Williams, I’m biased. I keep giving him a pass, thinking the lightbulb will eventually go on. His pass-rushing talent and promise are so tantalizing. It’s a tease. When Williams turns the corner from a two-point stance, you can see that fast get-off and the ability to dip to create havoc around the corner.
But to this point, Williams has been a blip in the pass-rush picture. He has just two sacks in the last two seasons and he’s been active for 15 games total. I expected much more from him as even a situational third-down edge rusher.
There are several factors that have kept him down. Injury and lack of special teams value are probably the biggest. However, there have been some rumblings about his practice habits being less than stellar.
Either way, from a pure talent perspective, I’ve said before that Williams reminds me of Peter Boulware. Lofty comparison, I know. Williams needs to be treated as a pure pass rusher instead of a three-down defender.
The former Alabama standout will now have the opportunity. And he has history on his side. Paul Kruger and Dwan Edwards are examples of high-round late bloomers who came on in the latter stages of their rookie deals. Is this Williams’ time? The coaches need to find out and give him more snaps.