Could the Ravens make the switch to a 4-3 defense?
For years there has been debate amongst fans whether the Ravens would be better suited having a 4-3 defense instead of the 3-4 they have been running for over a decade. In reality, the Ravens have been running a hybrid defensive front that has been inching more and more towards a 4-3 over the past several seasons since Dean Pees took over as the defensive coordinator. In this past offseason, there have been more rumors that the Ravens might be making the switch to a primarily 4-3 front, but a quick examination of the front 7 depth chart would suggest the personnel was not really equipped for a proper 4-3 prior to the draft. Now that the Ravens have made their selections in the NFL Draft, could this new influx of talent make a major scheme change more likely?
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At first glance, the front seven players selected in this recent draft class fit the mold for the 3-4 front, but upon closer inspection there is reason to think they might work just as well if not better in a 4-3. Here, I take a look at how each player would fit into either scheme.
OLB Kamalei Correa (2nd Round):
Correa fits the mold of a 3-4 OLB that can rush the passer as evidenced by 19 sacks over his final two seasons in college. However, at 243 pounds, he is a bit smaller than the typical OLB the Ravens have drafted in recent years. At Boise State he did spend a lot of time off the ball, frequently dropping into coverage and even lined up over receivers in the slot at times. He also lined up at MLB for the Broncos at times which has sparked some discussion about Correa potentially taking some snaps at ILB for the Ravens. Correa can clearly rush the passer, but he also has a lot more versatility than your typical edge defender. He could theoretically line up at any LB position in either scheme and potentially play DE in a 4-3 front as well. He’s a piece that could certainly help the Ravens transition to a 4-3 if they wanted to do so because depth and versatility at LB is something they severely lacked prior to the draft.
DE Bronson Kaufusi (3rd Round):
Similar to Correa, Kaufusi looks to be a good fit for a 3-4 defense. At 6’6”, 285 pounds, he has prototypical size for a 3-4 DE. There is no reason to think he won’t be very effective in this role, but in BYU’s defense, Kaufusi was most successful as an edge rusher. He possesses impressive athleticism and bend for a player his size suggesting he could be a LDE in a 4-3 defense as well, and this role might actually get the best production out of him as a pass-rusher. With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil both in their 30’s, Kaufusi may emerge as a primary edge rusher for the Ravens if they were to fully transition to a 4-3.
DT Willie Henry (4th Round):
Henry was the first Ravens pick that really looks more like a 4-3 DT than a player that fits in a 3-4 front. His play and body-type are somewhat reminiscent of Timmy Jernigan, and he profiles best as a one-gap penetrating 3T. Similar to Jernigan, he could likely play some 5T but would be at his best rushing from the inside. If Brandon Williams does not re-sign with Baltimore, there is no true NT on the roster to replace him making a 4-3 defense with one-gap penetrators like Henry and Jernigan more attractive.
DE Matt Judon (5th Round):
At 6’3”, 275, Judon is another player that looks more like a 4-3 DE at first glance. He could be asked to bulk up a bit to play 5T in 3-4 front, or he could potentially play OLB for the Ravens like Pernell McPhee who was similarly viewed as a “tweener”. Most likely, Judon will start his career as a sub-package rush end or even interior pass-rusher. He’s too much of an unknown to have a great idea of what his immediate role may be, but he certainly profiles as a good fit in a 4-3.
Overall, the Ravens new draft class will certainly be able to play in the current Ravens defense, but they would also work well in a 4-3 defense. With players like Brandon Williams potentially moving on in free agency and Suggs and Dumervil moving towards the back end of their careers, the window is now more open for the defense to transition into an even front over the next few seasons.