The Ravens could lose a significant portion of their 2018 pass rush, with linebackers Za'Darius Smith (8 ½) sacks and Terrell Suggs (seven sacks) both free agents.
Pass rushers working out Sunday at the NFL Combine will get the Ravens' attention. If Smith returns, it's going to be expensive for Baltimore. If Smith signs elsewhere, it's going to leave a void. Even if Suggs returns, the franchise's all-time sack leader is 36 years old.
Keeping young pass rushers on the roster to join Matthew Judon, who had seven sacks last season, will continue to be a franchise priority. The Ravens have some tough quarterbacks to deal with in the AFC North – Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, and now Baker Mayfield in Cleveland. Giving them ample time to throw is not a recipe for success.
Fortunately for the Ravens, this draft has a deep stable of edge rushers adept at getting after quarterbacks. Here's a look at five that could intrigue the Ravens, and what they had to say at the Combine:
Montez Sweat, Mississippi St.
Size: 6-foot-5 ¾, 260 pounds, 84 ¾ inch wingspan
Sweat is what quarterbacks often did when this man got near them. He produced impressive numbers against top-caliber competition in the SEC, with 12 sacks and 14 ½ tackles for loss last season. The Ravens used Smith as both an inside and outside pass rusher last season, Sweat could have the size and athleticism to do the same.
"I've talked to teams about playing in the 3-4 or 4-3, staying down in my stance or getting on the edge," Sweat said. "It's definitely an advantage (standing up). You can see a lot more things and be a little more explosive."
Sweat played a lot of basketball growing up, and his athleticism translates to the gridiron. His physicality definitely drew attention at the Senior Bowl, where he pancaked several offensive linemen in drills.
A problem for the Ravens is that Sweat may not fall to them at No. 22 if he's too impressive at the Combine.
"I think he's going to be a top-20 pick," said NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah. He's going to be in the mix for all those teams that are looking for edge rushers."
Jachai Polite, Florida
Size: 6-foot-2 5/8, 258 pounds, 80 ¼ inch wingspan
There could be a run on edge rushers in the middle of the first round, and Polite is one worth watching. In his latest mock draft, Peter Schrager of NFL Network has the Carolina Panthers taking Polite at No. 21, just before he has the Ravens selecting North Carolina State center Garrett Bradley at No. 22. Polite doesn't like to be outworked and "plays like a Raven" on film.
"You're going to get solid value-type guys in the 20s, just really, really good football players," Jeremiah said. "That's where the Jachai Polites of the world come into the mix."
Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
Size: 6 foot 4 3/8, 264 pounds, 82 3/8-inch wingspan
Many scouts think he'll be gone before the No. 22 pick. Ferrell is another edge rusher who had big-time production at a big-time program - 27 sacks and 50 tackles for loss during his career at Clemson. For those wondering how he got his unusual first name, Ferrell gave an explanation that drew laughs at the Combine.
Jeremiah describes Ferrell as another play-to-the-whistle pass rusher that fits the Ravens' defensive culture.
"With Sweat you get a little better athlete, with Ferrell you're going to get a little more power, a little more strength and a little bit better against the run," Jeremiah said. "One of the things I love about Ferrell is he never stops, and that to me is the most underrated trait in a pass rusher - persistence. Every year when you watch a sack tape of the top pass rushers, they collect four or five that are just pure effort. I think you're going to get some of those from Ferrell. I don't think he's going to be a 14, 15, 16-sack guy. But I think he can be a really good 10-to-12-sack guy who's going to also hold up in the run. To me that's pretty valuable."
Brian Burns, Florida State
Size: 6-foot-4 ¾, 249 pounds, 83 5/8-inch wingspan
Weighing almost 250 pounds at the Combine is a win for Burns, who has reportedly gained almost 20 pounds since the end of the season. That's a good thing for teams wondering if he had the bulk to be an effective NFL edge rusher. Burns has a good chance to be available at No. 22, or even later should the Ravens trade back. If the Ravens like Burns, they could trade down in the first round, acquire and extra pick, and perhaps still be in position to get him.
Shareef Miller, Penn State
Size: 6-foot-4 ½, 254 pounds, 80 5/8 inch wingspan
The Ravens may address needs like wide receiver or their offensive line early in the draft. If they wait to acquire an edge rusher, Miller could be targeted in the middle rounds.
"I want to see just how athletic he is in some of the change-of-direction things," Jeremiah said. "That will be the area where I think he could help himself a little bit. Right now I have him more kind of in that four-round, five-round range. It'll be big for him just from an athletic standpoint to see what he looks like."