The linebacker corps for the Baltimore Ravens has long been one of the strongest units on the roster, but now faces some turnover that has caused concern among fans. Even with some newer faces, this is a unit that possesses a lot of upside and talent.
C.J. Mosley was undoubtedly the leader of the group, calling the plays and getting his teammates into position, and with his departure, that role shifts elsewhere. There is no telling if one of his replacements will take the lead in play calling, but they will be tasked with replacing his tackling production.
The rushers on the edge are tasked with replacing long-time vet Terrell Suggs, not small shoes to fill, given Suggs’ production and fame. The unit also lost Za’Darius Smith to the Green Bay Packers in free agency, causing more unknown to be thrust into the mix.
Let’s take a dive into this position group.
EDGE- Matthew Judon
WILB- Kenny Young
SILB- Patrick Onwuasor
EDGE- Tyus Bowser
EDGE- Tim Williams
EDGE- Jaylon Ferguson
EDGE- Shane Ray
EDGE- Pernell McPhee
ILB- Chris Board
Fighting for a spot
ILB- EJ Ejiya
ILB- Otaro Alaka
ILB- Alvin Jones
ILB- Silas Stewart
OLB- Aaron Adeoye
OLB- Markus Jones
OLB- Matthew Thomas
ILB- Michael Onuoha
The starting unit is very straight-forward with the exception of who will line up opposite of Matthew Judon. I have gone with Tyus Bowser for one simple reason: he is more proven of a run defender than the rest of the pack. Given Bowser’s ability to cover in space and stop the run, look for him to get the first crack at starting opposite Judon.
Judon goes without saying; he has been a starter and will now be tasked with being the Ravens’ premier pass rusher off the edge. The Grand Valley State alumni has all the talent and ability to live up to the task, but questions remain. His production often came in chunks, with his pass rush disappearing for uncomfortably long stretches. Make no mistake, though, Judon is going into a contract year and expects to get paid big time. Even with said production coming in chunks, that doesn’t diminish the production and its value.
As for the inside linebackers, there is no questioning who the starters will be, but the production is the question. Patrick Onwuasor came on stronger as the season progressed, earning the respect of fans and pundits all over. Kenny Young is known for his speed and ability to play sideline-to-sideline, and will be tasked with playing the weakside in his second year full time. Expect Chris Board to get plenty of snaps as well. Board is known for his ability on special teams, but he falls in line with past undrafted free agents with a chance to make an impact as a rotational player.
There will be plenty of rotation at the EDGE spots for the defense, given the lack of proven experience at the positon. I fully expect Pernell McPhee to take over the void left by Za’Darius Smith, helping to create interior pass rush. Shane Ray should make the roster and get his chances to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback. Given his salary and contract, he will only be asked to rush the passer, with little expectation of him being in on rushing downs.
Rookie Jaylon Ferguson is the biggest wild card in all of this. He has the natural talent to take over the starter’s job day one, but expect him to get in on the rotation before becoming a starter. Ferguson has the raw strength and hand=-fighting ability to get after the passer, but needs to become a little more multi-dimensional in his moves. He could surprise and make an impact immediately, but look for him to be brought along a little more slowly.
The time for Tim Williams is now. He has to come in and show out if he wants to lock down a spot long term. Williams showed flashes when healthy, but has been unable to keep himself on the field. That has to change this season for the Ravens to have a deep, strong pass rush.
Fighting for a spot
There is one main player I am keeping my eyes on in this group: E.J. Ejiya. The North Texas product has the range and tackling instincts to make the final roster. Special teams is where these players will have to make their impact and show they are worthy of playing on Sundays in September through hopefully January.
Matthew Thomas may be another to keep an eye on. He made the Pittsburgh Steelers final cut last season, but was released later on. He was a player I liked coming out of Florida State, but didn’t do enough to make the Steelers keep him around much longer.