Talk about the Ravens defense has to begin with the man in the middle of the D-Line – Brandon Williams.
The imposing NT has played every game the last two years, starting all 16 games last season. There were no Pro Bowl accolades for Williams last year, but that doesn’t mean it would not have been deserved. Pro Football Focus labeled him as the 3rd best run stuffing tackle. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said Williams was, “Probably as good a nose tackle as there is in the league right now.” Clearly those are high accolades from Newsome. As Williams enters his 4th year in the league, I still feel there is yet another gear he can reach.
I went into last year really excited about the potential of Timmy Jernigan and Carl Davis. Jernigan played in 15 games last year, but wasn’t a force. Davis made zero impact, and was a healthy scratch in 3 of the last 6 games.
When I think of things which could go right this coming year, I still come back to this duo. Jernigan has the ability to push the pocket. Davis was viewed as a steal that fell to the Ravens at 90th overall in the 2015 Draft. Every Scouting Report I saw praised his talent, but questioned the motor. He’s had a year to adjust to the league. I’m hoping we see a Davis ready to produce during camp.
Lawrence Guy played in all 16 games last year, and is usable depth. He had 4.5 sacks on the year, including a 2 sack game vs. Cleveland in October, and a 1.5 sack game vs. Cincinnati in the season final.
2014 4th rounder Brent Urban missed ’14 with an ACL injury. In ’15, he suffered a torn biceps last August. Finally at the end of last November, Urban joined the 53 man roster. There is going to be a roster crunch in camp, and Urban could be on the outside looking in when the roster is finally set. Complicating matters, nobody – including the Ravens – can have a great handle of what Urban is as a player at this point. Certainly he can’t afford set-backs during camp, and is going to have earn his place.
One reason Urban’s spot might be in question is that the Ravens now have a 2nd 6’7 DE, after drafting Bronson Kaufusi 70th overall out of BYU. As with many BYU players, Kaufusi is described as a guy of high maturity. No surprise there given that Kaufusi is 24 years old, and has more life experience vs. many other 2016 rookies. Despite his size, he’s not known for his strength. He’s also said to not have an explosive first step, but is recognized as a fluid athlete, who works hard. Very interested to see what the Ravens have with him. Obviously the NFL is a significant transition for anyone, but I’m expecting a guy ready to compete quicker than most Rookies. The Ravens need some consistent pass rush from DE. Can Kaufusi provide it?
As C.J. Mosley enters his 3rd year in the league, do we have a handle on how good he is? A Pro Bowler, and 2nd Team All-Pro as a Rookie in 2014, last year was a step-back. The biggest issue was that he was picked on at times in pass coverage.
It’s unfair to ask Mosley to be Ray Lewis in his prime, and it might also be unfair to ask Mosley to be Luke Kuechly. I think it’s fair to say that for Baltimore’s defense to again be a unit which is feared; that it’s needed for Mosley to be a premier 3 down MLB.
Terrell Suggs turns 35 in October. He’s coming off the Achilles suffered in the 2015 Opener. Coach Harbaugh was recently quoted as saying Suggs has a ‘real chance’ to be ready for the 2016 Opener. It’s thought that Suggs will likely sit out the entire preseason.
Elvis Dumervil turned 32 in January.
In the 2014 season, the Suggs / Dumervil duo combined for 29 sacks. In ’15, without Suggs opposite of him; Dumervil’s sacks dropped from 17 to 6.
Do they have enough left in the tank to again be a force in ’16? Can the defense be effective if they are not?
Hard to imagine, but the answer is maybe if others step-up.
Za’Darius Smith drew comparisons last year to former Raven Pernell McPhee. Smith finished his Rookie season with 5.5 sacks, including 3.5 in the final 3 weeks of 2015. With some other pass rushers on the field, maybe Smith becomes a real weapon this year? He has the physical skills which should be hard to stop 1×1.
One of the potentially underrated Ravens 2016 Draft selections was 5th Round pick Matt Judon. Judon overwhelmed Division 2 this past year with 20 sacks as DE. This year he will be transitioning to OLB. Is he able to set the edge? How is he in coverage? Can he force his way onto the field?
With Daryl Smith gone, who is going to start inside with Mosley?
Zach Orr is a possibility.
There is also 2013 2nd Round Pick Arthur Brown, and 2016 2nd Rounder Kamalei Correa.
It’s been a second, but do you remember how excited the Ravens College Scouting staff was about Brown? Brown was the 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and a 1st Team All-American. There was a feeling that he was going to be capable of making an immediate impact. He’s entering his 4th year in the NFL, and he has 17 career tackles.
For all of the current excitement about Correa, you would like to think Brown’s time in the NFL counts for something. Knowledge of the system. 3 years of practice. 3 years of coaching. 3 year of physical training at the professional level. Brown wasn’t drafted due to his size, he was drafted because he had plus speed moving sideline-to-sideline.
The Ravens defense was depleted last year, but also looked slow and limited athletically. It would be silly to expect everything to come together for Brown at this point. He’s clearly closer to getting cut this Summer, vs. being a guy you depend on; but I’m still interested to see how he performs in Camp when more is being asked of him.
Give him 1st team reps. He performs, or he doesn’t.
Correa sounds like a prototypical Raven Defender. Someone who enjoys the game, competition, and is typically on a seek-and-destroy mission. Like Kaufusi, Correa is described as being mature. Pretty much every pre-draft scouting report on Correa looked at him as an Edge Rusher. No idea what Correa will be like in coverage, but Correa starting would be another step to improving the athleticism of the defense if he does.
In-general I’m feeling okay about the Secondary. As long as their is a pass rush in-front of them, the existing group should be fine.
Kyle Arrington disappointed last year in that role, but he’s back, and he has had a productive career. Maybe he rebounds?
As with Judon at LB, another 2016 Draft selection that is possibly underrated was 4th Rounder Tavon Young. The Maryland native, and Temple product had his speed questioned in the NFL.com, and CBS Sports Scouting reports. That seemed odd to me given his 4.38 40 yard dash speed, and with the highlights I saw. I understand that he has limited size, but I don’t see a guy that runs from contact.
Young looks to me to be a 3rd guy that can help in the slot. Just on that, that’s reason to be encouraged about the Secondary in my opinion.
I also like the move of Lardarius Webb to Safety, looked at in detail by our colleague Gabe Ferguson here.
Outside of Le’Veon Bell, is there anyone who has questioned the signing of Eric Weddle? Weddle – a 2x All-Pro – doesn’t have to be at that All-Pro level to be a significant improvement for Baltimore.
We continue to like Terrence Brooks’ potential. Can he stay on the field?
Outside of the pass-rush in-front of them, to me how good the Secondary is comes down to Shareece Wright, and Jimmy Smith.
The Ravens pass defense was strong over the last 8 weeks of 2008. Wright was credited by the Coaching staff as being part of that. In March he was signed to a 3 year deal, and he goes into the Summer as a projected starter. Wright started 7 games with the Ravens last year, and that experience helps. You also like seeing quotes from Harbaugh about Wright being a hard worker, who watches a lot of film.
I’m cautiously optimistic about Wright being a quality starter, but I’d be lying if I said I also didn’t have his recent release from the 49ers in my head.
I don’t have a great handle on what Wright will provide. To me, it’s wait and see.
Opposite of Wright will be Smith.
Smith was very strong in 2013, and was playing at an even higher level in 2014 prior to injuring his foot mid-season and going on IR. He had Lisfranc surgery in November ’14.
In April ’15, Smith signed a 4 year extension, with $21M guaranteed. During the ’15 season, Smith played all 16 games, but it was a struggle. His speed was okay in straight lines, but he in and out of breaks he looked slow.
I understand not rushing his rehab, but if Smith feels ready, I hope he gets time on the field before the regular season begins. Seems to me that Smith dealt with confidence issues last year when his body was not responding as he wanted or expected. He needs to prove to himself that he’s ready to go, before the lights officially come on.
Is Smith still capable of being a true #1 shutdown corner? Taking the challenge of lining up each week against the best WR’s in the league, and holding his own? That’s a huge question looming for this team.
Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.
You can reach him via email at [email protected].