Ravens 2014 Positional Preview: Defensive Line
The defensive line was one of the top priorities over a year ago for the Ravens brass to attempt to fix.
Overall the changes up front worked to a degree as Baltimore ranked 12th Defensively overall and were 9th against the run giving up 105 yards per contest. Now the team is faced with losing its best player up front in Arthur Jones who they lost to Indianapolis and must integrate some fresh legs in the rotation.
Can this team improve upon last season’s effort? Let’s take a look.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
2014 Depth Chart:
Defensive Tackle: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Jaime Meder, Levi Brown
Nose Tackle: Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Derrick Hopkins, A.J. Pataiali’i
Defensive End: Chris Canty, DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Brent Urban
I feel that it’s safe to say that this season could be Haloti Ngata’s last in Baltimore. Ngata is still considered by many to be one of the top 100 players in the game today but I often wonder if he continues to live on reputation than performance. Over the past five seasons he’s missed at least one game in four and statistically had one of his worst seasons as a pro even though he turned down a Pro Bowl invitation last February. He has two years remaining on his contract at a staggering number against the cap. Simply, he needs to stay healthy and produce at a consistent level in order for the Ravens to re-work an extension or he’ll likely be cut in 2015.
Chris Canty’s first season in Charm City was a relatively quiet one. He dealt with nagging injuries and rarely made many impact plays among his 30 tackles, and was severely limited down the stretch. If many of the young players show that they are ready to step in and get snaps right away there is an outside chance Canty could be on the chopping block as well. But my hope is that he can be more healthy and productive in his second season here and help mentor the host of young talent the Ravens have up front.
Brandon Williams has drawn raves so far this off-season with added explosiveness and quickness. The Ravens need the second-year man to take a huge step forward for the line to round into shape this season. With the departure of Jones and the questions surrounding Ngata and Canty he’s the player that must fill the role of disruptive force and run stopper.
The loss of Jones also leaves the door of opportunity open to a young crop of players such as, Kapron Lewis-Moore, DeAngelo Tyson, and Timmy Jernigan. Tyson has the most experience of the group and should be expected to get the first shot at increased playing time. He’s seen spot start duty over the past few seasons and has filled in admirably when called upon. Lewis-Moore appears fully recovered from his ACL injury and is ready to compete for playing time. He’ll need to refine his technique after losing all of last year to rehab. In Jernigan the Ravens feel like they got a steal as he was a projected first-round talent. Even if he doesn’t start, which I wouldn’t expect he should be an important rotational player for the Ravens line.
Projections: Ngata needs to have a healthy, consistent, productive 2014 if he hopes to stay in Baltimore. I’m not sure that will happen no matter how healthy he comes into camp. He’s sustained so many injuries while in the trenches I don’t feel he’ll ever get back to that elite level. Still an average Ngata isn’t all that bad just not commensurate with being the highest paid player at his position.
Canty should play a little better than last season but not by much, which means that someone from the group of youngsters must step forward. I’d say Williams and Tyson have the best chance to give the team a lift on the line. Jernigan will show flashes while Brent Urban will be a project that may pay off in a few seasons.
Something I haven’t addressed here is if the Ravens would be willing to play more 4-3 in their hybrid scheme maybe putting Suggs or Dumervil on the edge. Baltimore does have the personnel to do this and I would expect to see it more this season.
Terrence Cody may be the key here. If he makes the team that means that the youngsters aren’t ready yet and we may see this unit struggle. Since I feel he was signed as insurance anyway my hope is that he’ll be jettisoned early to make way for the youth movement.
Matt is a lifelong Maryland resident and graduate of both Calvert Hall and Towson University. Before joining BSL, Matt worked as the Senior Site Editor for Baltimore Gridiron Report, providing commentary and analysis. He’s also written articles for Russell Street Report, and has appeared as a guest on 1370AM. Matt Co-Hosts Ravens Rap weekly with Mike Randall. Matt currently lives in Bel Air, just minutes away from his job teaching high school history and economics for Harford County Public Schools.