How the New Guys Fit on Defense

Ravens Draft Central From Toyota How the New Guys Fit on Defense

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Like their offense, the Ravens’ defense last year was among the best in the sport. Baltimore ranked 4th in defensive DVOA last season. DVOA is a metric that measures efficiency and for defenses, it takes opponent into account. If your defense’s DVOA is in the negatives (the Ravens had a -12.7% DVOA), that’s a good thing and the Ravens’ lockdown secondary was a big part of that. DVOA certainly is not a perfect stat, but it gives a good indicator in translating dominance. So, yes even ranking fourth best in the league last year, Eric DeCosta still sees room for improvement. The 2020 draft class was equally distributed over offense and defense with five on each side of the ball. This article serves as Part 2 in evaluating how this draft class will fit into this upcoming season’s defensive scheme.

[See How the New Guys Fit on Offense]

Patrick Queen, LB, LSU

Queen was widely mocked to the Ravens leading up to the draft, but many wondered if he would last until pick 28. The Ravens had never drafted an LSU player in their 24-year history (Ozzie Newsome went to Alabama *ahem* *ahem*). Well, enter middle linebacker, Patrick Queen. Queen has had very little time in the starting role at LSU, but completely shined given the opportunity. He gives the Ravens an immediate impact starter in arguably their weakest position pre-draft. One thing to keep in mind too: Queen has even more room to grown than most draftees, as he is just 20 years old!

Instinctive – Queen’s instincts are that of a 10-year veteran. He fills gaps in the D-Line because he has discipline and rarely over pursues. Queen’s natural football IQ will aid his development; that’s not something you can easily teach. Queen is also tremendous at disrupting and sniffing out screens. He displays good instincts in pass coverage. He stays in the right position, which will be huge for the Ravens. That lack of discipline hurt the Ravens last year badly against the Browns early in the season before Chuck Clark stepped into the starting role and showed why he was given the green dot.

Communication skills – Queen has impressed in just one year in the starting role. He takes a leadership position on the field and has shown this through communication. It’s evident pre-snap that he seeks to get everyone in the right position, and this tells me one thing: he has football intelligence. It helps to have someone who already understands scheme, because Wink Martindale’s defense was called one of the more complicated ones in the league by veteran Earl Thomas.

Seamless lateral movement – Queen is widely considered undersized for his position (sound familiar for a Baltimore inside linbacker?) What he lacks in size, he makes up for speed and agility. This lateral movement helps him evade blocks and zero in on the ball carrier.

Speed – Queen reminds me of Le’Veon Bell if Bell played linebacker. He waits for holes in the line to present before trying to do too much. He can afford to be so patient because he has incredible closing speed. Queen ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at the combine, and it translates to game speed.

Laser focus – You will not see Queen getting distracted. He is locked in on every play. Take for example a game against Alabama: Queen stayed in position as he read Tua Tagovailoa’s eyes. Tua looked off Queen, but Queen didn’t flinch. Queen saw a receiver starting to come across the field on a slant route and Queen simply jumped the route and picked off Tua. This is a crucial skill to have as a draft prospect that seeks to be lauded for their coverage abilities and it certainly translates to pro ball.

Player Comp: Thomas Davis Sr.

It’s really hard to find negatives for this guy. He’s smart, fast, and knows what he’s doing on the field. It needs to be said too that he tackled Alabama’s speed receiver Jaylen Waddle in the open field with Waddle running full speed.

If he’s the perfect linebacker, why the fall to 28? It needs to be said that being undersized has hurt him at times on tape. On occasion, he has had problems shedding blocks, but he is also far better at shedding blocks than fellow linebacker prospect Kenneth Murray. What I love most is Queen knows how to take his shortcomings and turn them into strengths. He has shown the ability to use leverage to fill gaps and be a next-level run stopper. What’s funny to me is DeCosta took perhaps the two positions most devalued as of late in a middle linebacker and running back with his first two draft selections.

This fact may have helped both Queen and J.K. Dobbins fall to the Ravens where they did.

Justin Madubuike, DL, Texas A&M

Here’s another example of taking the best player available even when it isn’t one of the team’s most pressing needs. Justin Madubuike easily could have been a 2nd Round draft pick, but fell as there was a run on skill position players. But if you’re looking for a fit on the Ravens, Madubuike does not just provide depth, he also provides a tremendous option in nickel formations. The standard nickel for the Ravens this year could look something along these lines: Safeties Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark, Corners Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Tavon Young, Linebackers Malik Harrison and Patrick Queen, and D-Linemen Derek Wolfe, Madubuike, Calais Campbell, and Matthew Judon. Why is he a fit for the nickel formation and the defensive line in general? See below.

Speed – Madubuike ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.83) than both Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield…oh and he weighs nearly 300 lbs. He plays fast as well. He frequently runs by the slower offensive linemen with ease.

Athletic – Watching Madubuike against LSU this year was particularly impressive, as LSU was considered to have one of the more vaunted offensive lines in all of college football. Madubuike put LSU’s Saahdiq Charles in the spin cycle on a stunt, which tells me that Madubuike doesn’t just possess the necessary athleticism to succeed, he also has proper technique.

Versatility – Playing a lot of 1-Technique is not necessarily something you might expect from a guy with this kind of athleticism, but he has ability to play throughout line, which will delight Martindale and provide depth.

Sheds blocks – Madubuike is a straight up force when he wants to be (which is basically every play). He uses hips well to drive through interior offensive lineman and uses his frame as leverage.

Player Comp: Quinnen Williams

Madubuike was overcome with emotion when he received the call from the Ravens that he had been their pick. It’s pretty evident that his passion for the game means a lot and maybe he uses his slight fall in the draft as fuel to prove people the wrong. His play on the field certainly is dominant. I think some Ravens were confused as to why they took a running back and defensive lineman in succession, but it’s clear to me that DeCosta & Company have an eye on both now and the future.

Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State

Harrison was arguably the steal of the entire 2020 NFL Draft. Universally, Harrison held at worst a 2nd Round grade but fell all the way to pick number 98 in the 3rd Round. Harrison is big and plays like it. At 6’3 nearly 250 lbs., Harrison showcases his power and explosiveness as well as any linebacker draft prospect. He automatically slots into the other starting linebacker role alongside Patrick Queen.

Power – Harrison’s power is on full display when he’s 1-on-1 against linemen. He is not afraid to smack linemen in the facemask and will his way past them. I have seen on occasion when Harrison doesn’t use power to the best of his ability to shed lateral blocks, but overall, he is fully aware of his size and how he can utilize it for his benefit.

[Read: Malik Harrison Brings the Boom Back to Baltimore’s Defense]

Agility – Harrison has been called a ‘downhill runner,’ a common draft profile trait, but for him it rings true. Harrison ran down Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, so that should tell you everything you need to know. I’ve seen him make mistakes in pass coverage and recover quickly. Hopefully, some more time in the film room can shore those mistakes up.

Run stopper – The Ravens are gun-shy, or perhaps Derrick Henry-shy now after getting run all over in the playoffs. They brought in Campbell and Wolfe in free agency and drafted two defensive linemen. Harrison can assist here too. He fills gaps well and uses his large frame to be a run-stuffer. Ohio State allowed only 3.98 yards per carry when he was on pursuit.

Player Comp: Kyle Van Noy

Harrison played his share of SAM linebacker in college (like Judon with the Ravens), so he has shown some versatility. Malik will assuredly play most of his snaps inside, but if he is needed at SAM, he will be ready. If called upon, Harrison’s ability to fill gaps, especially the ‘A’ gap will help him to excel. If he is forced to drop into zone, he may have difficulty as he did at Ohio State, but again film study and learning under the vets like Judon and L.J. Fort could help him to learn quickly.

Broderick Washington, DL, Texas Tech

Ah yes, Jordyn Brooks’ favorite person. Yes, THAT Jordyn Brooks, selected one spot ahead of Patrick Queen by the Seahawks this year. Ravens fans are counting their blessings that Brooks had the opportunity to have such a phenomenal season, due in part to one Broderick Washington. Washington was a one-man wrecking crew to offensive lines in 2019. He opens up gaps in the line and lets the linebackers finish the job. I did not like the pick when the Ravens made it, because I desperately wanted edge rusher Bradlee Anae. My rationale in warming up to the pick here is that the Ravens love to double up during drafts, so I trust them. They doubled up with Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews at tight end in the same draft, so doubling up with defensive linemen makes more sense as I reflect on it. Brandon Williams is not getting any younger and Wolfe may be around for only a year. Let’s hope getting two complete game-wreckers at position that isn’t considered to be a need works out in the long run.

 

Finisher – Washington wraps-up players relentlessly. I have yet to see him miss a tackle when he makes contact. As mentioned earlier, Derrick Henry must have put the fear of God into Eric DeCosta. DeCosta loaded up on run-stuffers to ensure the Ravens would never get run on like that again. Let’s hope for my sanity that rings true.

Initial burst – It’s rare to see someone with this kind of ability to explode through an offensive line like Washington does. I think where it fits with the Ravens so well, is with an already elite secondary. Putting quick pressure on the quarterback could provide offenses little option but to force an errant throw and risk the Ravens secondary picking off the ball or at the very least making a play on the ball to swat it down.

Works well against double-teams – Washington faced double-teams frequently in his tenure at Texas Tech, but he’s able to shed them using violent hands and technically-sound footwork.

Player Comp: Chris Baker

If nothing else, Washington could be a solid depth piece. Expectations should not be necessarily high for a 6th Round pick coming out of any draft, so I think if we keep it that way, Washington can do nothing else but impress us. The Big 12 didn’t exactly have world beaters in terms of offensive linemen prospects this year, so it’s fair to say the competition level Washington faced was suspect. He could be a valuable rotational piece for the Ravens, but don’t sleep on this guy’s ability if he’s brought into a game on fresh legs.

Geno Stone, S, Iowa

Perhaps Geno Stone fell the farthest from his projected draft value of any player, but this much is certain: the guy can play. He may be undersized for his position (5’10″), but his instincts are off the charts. Stone wasn’t highly recruited out of High School in New Castle, Pennsylvania due to his size and in fact Iowa was the only Power 5 school to even give him an offer. He used this as fuel to have a pretty prolific collegiate career and flashed on tape.

Versatile – Stone could end up being a box safety or free safety. I’ve seen him come up and make big plays at the line of scrimmage or drop back into the centerfielder role. I think for him to learn under the tutelage of someone like an Earl Thomas, perhaps the best true free safety since Ed Reed, would do nothing but benefit this guy.

Angles – Putting oneself into position to make a play translates to the NFL, I don’t care what one’s athleticism profile looks like. Stone takes efficient routes to the ball carrier without needing elite-level speed to get there. Stone ran a 4.62 40-yard dash the combine, which is somewhat uninspiring, but with no wasted movement, Stone makes up for it soundly.

High football IQ – I get chills thinking about Ed Reed’s highlight tape, how he could instinctively know exactly where the ball was going to be before the quarterback did. He is the greatest of all time at that skill, there can be no debate. This is exactly why I admire Stone and his awareness on the field. Yes, he fits more of the strong safety mold with his tackling ability, but what lends me to thinking Stone could be called upon to play centerfield is his route recognition of opposing receivers.

Player Comp: Micah Hyde

Cue Jesse Pinkman’s, “He can’t keep getting away with this” video clip, because somehow, someway, DeCosta found major value in the 7th Round of the draft. Many, if not all pundits had Stone landing somewhere between the 3rd-5th Rounds…not the 7th. Stone has little pressure to become an impact player for the Ravens as a late round pick, but watching some of his interviews, this is a kid who gets it.

So as I sit here and talk strictly about how these players could be a fit for the Ravens schematically, I want to recognize the human element to Stone. He has a passion for the game, a passion for learning, and a respect for those who came before him. I’ve heard him mention how giddy he is to learn from a guy like Earl Thomas and hey, he grew up near Pittsburgh, so I’m sure he has studied his fair share of Troy Polamalu.

This will wrap up my two-part analysis of the Ravens draft this year on each side of the ball. I hope to reflect 3-5 years down the line and appreciate the talent Eric DeCosta, Joe Hortiz, and John Harbaugh brought onto this team. These Ravens had aspirations to win it all last year, but if they somehow manage to accomplish the ultimate goal this year, I suspect plugging in players like Patrick Queen, J.K. Dobbins, and Malik Harrison will have played a large part.

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