Ravens sport the best 3-4 front in the NFL
Haloti Ngata leaves big shoes to fill after the Ravens traded their nine-year staple on the defensive line to Detroit prior to free agency. Despite being unable to retain the big man, the Ravens defensive line is poised to be one of the best units in the league with Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan anchoring the front. We were able to get a sneak preview of what we have in these two men when Ngata missed the last four games of the regular season for testing positive for Adderall.
Along with Williams and Jernigan, the Ravens will rotate in their newest player, third round pick, Carl Davis out of Iowa. Chris Canty, Lawrence Guy, and Christo Bilikudi were brought back for 2015. Don’t forget about Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore who missed all of 2014 with season ending injuries during training camp. DeAngelo Tyson who quietly is more pretty serviceable in the trenches, and rookie fourth round pick, Za’Darius Smith out of Kentucky, is touted as a sleeper pick as a pass rushing specialist.
No doubt, Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan will have a good shot at earning Pro Bowl honors in 2015, if their level of play carries over from 2014.
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Brandon Williams is entering his third season, and we saw massive improvement form his rookie year to year two. As a rookie, Williams played on only 86 snaps. He even lost playing time to Terrence Cody, which is as big a knock as you can place on someone, as Cody played 229 snaps. In 2014, Williams saw his playing time increase a ton, as he played on 524 snaps. Terrence Cody, eight snaps.
Pro Football Focus lists a “stop” in the run game as: When an offense fails to get 40% of the required yards for another first down on first down, 60% of the required yards for a first down on second down, or a first down on third or fourth down. Brandon Williams ranked third among nose tackles in run stops with 27 of them last season. His run stop percentage is 9.9, which is very good. Here is how he stacked up with other DTs that played 25% of his team’s snaps on running plays.
Often fending off double teams, especially in the absence of Haloti Ngata, Williams wasn’t much of a force when it came to rushing the quarterback. He would get subbed out in obvious passing downs, notching just one sack on the year. To put it in perspective, Williams played on 250 passing snaps, while Detroit’s Ndumakong Suh led the league among DTs playing on 530 passing snaps. Williams notched 15 QB hurries, leading to a pass rushing productivity percentage of 4.6. Very middle of the road, but not terrible. Nick Fairley was the most prolific pass rusher, generating hurries at a 9.6% clip.
Williams skill set isn’t likely to change, and that’s where drafting a player like Carl Davis was key. Davis generated 37 pressures against opposing QBs in 2014 at Iowa. It’s a stretch, but on a per game basis, should that translate to the NFL, and if Davis plays a full slate a snaps, it would amount to 45 or so pressures. That would have been top five among DTs last year. At 320 pounds, Davis could line up over center, or in the five tech.
Moving on to Timmy Jernigan, the Ravens second round pick just a year ago. The beneficiary of lining up next to a big body who eats up two blockers. He only played 290 snaps as a rookie which is understandable. But he made statements in his limited time, earning more and more playing time as the season progressed. In 99 snaps on run defense, Jernigan made 10 stops, for a run stop percentage of 10.1. Right up there with the top 3-4 DEs.
*I’m not sure that Vince Wilfork is a DE, but Pro Football Focus goes by where a player lines up. Same goes for Haloti Ngata, as he didn’t line up directly over the center enough to be listed as a nose tackle in 2014.
Unlike Williams, Jernigan was also quite the force in rushing the passer. He generated 23 total pressures in 191 passing downs, good enough for a pass rush productivity rate of 9.7%. Jernigan would rank 2nd best among 3-4 DEs behind one guy who is pretty good. J.J. Watt (13.7%). This year, we will hopefully get to see if Jernigan can post those Pro Bowl caliber numbers with a full work load as he likely is a starter in his sophomore season.
In 2014, the most prominent defensive front on passing downs was Haloti Ngata, Timmy Jernigan, and Chris Canty. Canty was actually the worst 3-4 DE at generating pressure among those playing at least 25% of the snaps (2.1). Another reason why Carl Davis and Za’Darius Smith were added through the draft. But as you can see above, Canty still can hold his own in the run game, ranking 10th in run stopping. Possibly the reason Canty was brought back under a new contract. As of now, the depth chart on the defensive front should look something like this:
Overall, Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams need to be every down players. But with the way the Ravens run their hybrid 3-4 defense, anyone of five or six guys can line up over the center. Even if Williams isn’t a pass rushing beast, he takes up two men which could allow a linebacker free reign on blitzes to disrupt the oppositions passing.
How does the duo of Williams and Jernigan matchup against the league? Here is a look at an overall sum of run stopping, and pass rushing productivity, from the top performing duos on a 3-4 defensive front.
**In these duos, a single DT did not register enough snaps in pass defense for their team to qualify for pass rush productivity. However for arguments sake, Ryan Pickett scored a 0.6 bringing his and Watt’s total up to 33.2. Ian Williams had a 7.2 bringing his and McDonald’s total up to 34.1. Sean Lissemore notched a 6.7 bringing his and Mathew’s total up to 29.9. Sealver Siliga had a 7.6 bringing his and Wilfork’s total up to 28.7. Either way, no one dominated the 3-4 front better in 2014 than Timmy Jernigan, and Brandon Williams.
Not bad. Not bad at all. Some people say these games are won and lost in the trenches. Good to be one of the best on the defensive side of that trench. I would have to say in addition to having two potential Pro Bowlers on the defensive line, it is the deepest unit on the Ravens depth chart.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]