It’s hard to imagine a Ravens defense without all-time franchise sack leader Terrell Suggs. But that day will come, perhaps next season.
The Ravens would love to keep Za’Darius Smith, who led the team with 8 ½ sacks, but he’s a free agent like Suggs, and the price to keep Smith could prove too expensive for the Ravens’ taste.
That makes finding young pass rushers a priority this offseason, and luckily, it’s one of the strongest position groups among projected first-round draft picks.
Here are some outside linebackers at the Senior Bowl the Ravens will watch closely:
Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech
Size: 6-foot-5, 256 pounds
2018 stats: 65 tackles, 17 ½ stats, 26 tackles for loss
Ferguson holds the NCAA record with 45 sacks, a record held previously by none other than Suggs, who had 44 sacks at Arizona State. Ferguson’s biggest strength is his quickness off the ball. Even if he’s raw in other areas, Ferguson’s ability to harass quarterbacks could make him valuable to the Ravens immediately as a situational pass rusher. The biggest question is whether he can transfer that kind of production from Conference USA to the NFL. Suggs faced powerhouse competition in college.
Whether or not Suggs returns, the Ravens won’t stop looking for pass rushers. And Suggs would be a great mentor for Ferguson, who also has a catchy nickname – “Sack Daddy”.
Montez Sweat, Mississippi
Size: 6-foot-6, 252 pounds
2018 stats: 50 tackles, 8 ½ sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss
Sweat’s combination of size and burst has quickly made a strong impression at the Senior Bowl. Many observers called Sweat the best defensive player on the field during Tuesday’s practice. Some offensive linemen who lined up against Sweat were treated like a tackling dummy.
Sweat’s strong showing could decrease his chance of falling to the Ravens at No. 22, which multiple pundits previously projected. Some believe he could be a top-10 pick. However, a lot will take place between now and the draft in April. If Sweat gets anywhere near the Ravens’ vicinity on the draft board, they’d have to think about pursuing him.
Zach Allen, Boston College
Size: 6-foot-5, 280 pounds
2018 stats: 61 tackles, 6 ½ sacks, 15 tackles for loss
Allen, who also has been tabbed to the Ravens at No. 22, isn’t just a sack artist. He defended the run well in college and had 30 ½ tackles for loss during his career. The Ravens value versatile outside linebackers who can set the edge against the run, while also rushing the passer effectively. Allen is that type of player. He has the size to play outside linebacker in the Ravens’ scheme, and his strength could allow Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale to move Allen inside in obvious passing situations. That’s something Martindale did effectively with Smith. After this week, the Ravens should have an even better idea if Allen’s skills fit their needs.
Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion
Size: 6-foot-4, 241 pounds
2018 stats: 58 tackles, 11 ½ sacks, 18 tackles for loss
Ximines is being called the best small school pass rusher in this year’s class, and he could become the first Old Dominion player to be drafted. He reportedly had a strong day of practice Tuesday at the Senior Bowl, taking another step toward proving he can win one-on-one battles against bigger offensive linemen with his premier explosion off the snap. Ximines doesn’t have as much size or the pedigree of some of his peers, but he sounds like a focused player determined to reach his goals. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has him projected as a first-round pick.
Anthony Nelson, Iowa
Size: 6-foot-7, 272 pounds
2018 stats: 45 tackles, 9 ½ sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss
The only player who measured taller than Nelson at the Senior Bowl was 6-foot-8 tight end Donald Parham of Stetson. Picture Nelson batting down passes against the likes of AFC North quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Baker Mayfield and Andy Dalton. However, some scouts question if Nelson has the quickness to be an impact pass rusher, especially when matched against elite offensive linemen. Nelson may be a Day 2 pick, but he could offer excellent value if he falls to the third round. Ravens defensive end Brent Urban, who also stands in at 6-foot-7 (300 pounds), is an unrestricted free agent.
Charles Omenihu, Texas
Size: 6-foot-6, 274 pounds
2018 stats: 45 tackles, 9 ½ sacks, 18 tackles for loss
He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a standout player facing top competition on a regular basis. Omenihu thought about entering the draft last year, but returned to Texas for another season and gained strength and improved his technique. If the Ravens draft him, there could be some intense practice battles between Omenihu and Ravens right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. – a Texas guy vs. an Oklahoma guy.