It seems each time Matthew Judon is asked to prove something, he does.
When he entered the NFL, people asked if a fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State could make it in the league. Judon has become a Pro Bowl outside linebacker.
People wondered if Judon could lead the Ravens pass rush after Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith departed during free agency last year. Judon finished with a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019, completely unfazed by the pressure of performing during a contract year.
Now people are asking if Judon thinks he can handle the spotlight of playing under the franchise tag. Seriously? It has been very well established that Judon responds to a challenge. Even when people didn't believe in Judon, he always believed in himself.
"I feel like I'm one of the best players in football," Judon said. "And I feel like that's how you have to feel about yourself. I have a lot of arrogance to me that I just don't show. I just let my game do the talking. I think it's just confidence in who I am. I'm very confident in myself, and sometimes it might get me in trouble, but on the field, it's a good thing."
Every player has personal goals, but Judon is now an established player. He's not worried about living up to the high expectations that come with playing under the franchise tag, especially on the Ravens, where the main focus remains on the reigning MVP, Lamar Jackson.
"We all know who's the guy here," Judon said. "I got franchise tagged; I'm not the franchise guy. We all know who that is, and that's the MVP."
What Judon wants more than anything this season is a Super Bowl ring. That's a common refrain among Ravens players. After going 14-2 last season, the Ravens want to finish the journey and our embracing this year's high expectations.
"I really want to be a champ. I want to be a champion," Judon said. "I want to bring another championship to this organization. That's the biggest goal, and I think that's a goal for everybody, [and] right now, that's what I'm striving for."
The additions of defensive linemen Calias Campbell and Derek Wolfe have Judon believing he'll have even more opportunities to reach the quarterback. Campbell and Wolfe often occupy more than one blocker, and Judon plans to capitalize.
He calls Campbell, a five-time Pro Bowler, "Mr. Campbell." Judon is already imitating Campbell's deep voice, and it's clear they have bonded. Baltimore's locker room had special chemistry in 2019 and it appears the new players are finding it easy to fit in.
"We all enjoy football," Judon said. "We kind of socially-distant sit together at lunch, and we talk football, and we talk shop. After practice, in allowed time, we try to do stuff that we don't get to do in practice together, just to build that chemistry, because we're not going to have any preseason games to kind of see where we're rushing. So, there are certain games and pick-stunts that we work on after practice, and it's natural. Derek Wolfe and Calais, they are workers, and they are proven veterans. If you turn on any tape, of any game, you'll see them. I think we're going to mesh well. We're not going to have a chemistry problem."
It remains to be seen if Judon will reach a long-term agreement with the Ravens, but he has made it clear that he loves playing in Baltimore. Judon keeps balling out and lets the future take of itself.
"The franchise tag – it happened," Judon said. "You can't do anything about it; I couldn't do anything about it. But, I'm glad I'm still a Raven, so we're just going to make it work, and we are going to see how this season goes and what happens after this."
Nobody with the Ravens doubts that Judon will continue to thrive. He's comfortable in his skin, and confident in his ability. He's not worried about his future, and he's focused on getting a ring. He has spent his NFL career turning raw potential into impressive results, and now he's reaping the benefits.
"What a great story – a Division II fifth round draft choice … And let's just call it like we see it, he's looking at generational wealth down the road here," Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said earlier this offseason. "Signing that [franchise tag] just tells you where he's at.
"I'm excited to watch him this year. He's ready to take his pass rushing to the next level, and I just see nothing but great things coming from Matt."