The Ravens have a glaring need for a pass rusher.
Judon led the team with six sacks, followed by Calais Campbell, who had four sacks despite missing three games. Overall, the Ravens were ranked in the middle of the NFL with 39 sacks last season.
The free-agent market for pass rushers was tepid this offseason. So much so that it would surprise no one if the Ravens use Spokeo to screen calls from overzealous agents trying to peddle less than desirable edge defenders.
The Ravens hosted defensive end Justin Houston last week, but they’re reluctant to sign anyone prior to May 3 because the team doesn’t want to lose any potential comp picks.
The Browns signed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and he’ll be a force lined up opposite of Myles Garrett, who had an impressive 12 sacks last season and 10 the prior year. Quarterback Lamar Jackson will be dealing with tough pressure against Cleveland next season.
Opposing teams have already made key adjustments against the creative blitz packages of Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale. They’ll look to stay one step ahead of the Ravens defenders next year and Martindale will have to find different ways to get to the quarterback if the defense is short-handed with edge rushers.
“For sure, this year quarterbacks got the ball out faster than ever before,” Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta said. “I think going back to 2013 actually, quarterbacks threw the ball [and] got rid of the ball quicker this year. We faced a lot of teams this year that were the fastest teams at getting the ball out of their hands. Sacks were down this year in the league [and] pressures were down this year.”
Another challenge for the Ravens is the 2021 schedule that is full of top-tier quarterbacks, In addition to the AFC North with Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh), Baker Mayfield, (Cleveland) and Joe Burrow (Cincinnati), the Ravens also have to face Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City), Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), Matthew Stafford (Los Angeles Rams) and Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers).
“I still think you have to have a pass rush, especially when you’re playing play-action-type teams – that’s a critical, critical thing,” DeCosta said. “But there were a lot of teams this year that refused to be sacked, and the ball is coming out very, very fast. We saw that quite a bit.”
The Ravens secondary will play a huge role next season and it’s the deepest unit on the team. Martindale will often attack quarterbacks with a safety or cornerback blitz. The team’s defensive backs combined for 8.5 sacks last season.
DeCosta will likely add a free safety in the draft to support DeShon Elliott and will likely add another young cornerback. The team is hopeful Tavon Young can return to the lineup after a couple of injury-marred seasons.
The team will need that pressure and the defensive backs have to play at a consistently high level, especially if the front seven struggles to get sacks.
“We’ll always be a team that’s coming at you in different ways,” DeCosta said. “We do love our depth in the secondary. We love where we are right now. And what we learned this year, again, is you can never have enough corners. We say it every year, but this year was a great example.
“We had a bunch of guys go down at different points in the season. We played with a lot of different combinations, and we were able to survive and really flourish in many ways back there, despite the different personnel packages and people playing.”