How Matthew Judon Could Become a Difference-Maker in Year 2

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Matthew Judon's sack of New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith last season showed exactly why the Ravens drafted the outside linebacker in the fifth round a year ago.

Judon burst off the snap to beat the right tackle, then closed in on Smith as he scrambled toward the sideline. Judon had to leap over his own diving teammate, Za'Darius Smith, and finally tracked Smith down to wrestle him to the ground.

It was explosive, relentless and physical.

Judon's rookie season was a taste of what the young Grand Valley State product has to offer. He finished with four sacks and 27 tackles.

With the release of veteran Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens also invested in Judon's future. He's in line to take over as a starter, competing with Smith and rookies Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. And it's something Judon has had his eye on.

"I think every player in the NFL wants to start and go out there and show what they've got every down," Judon said. "That is up to the coaches. They are going to put whoever is the best fit and whoever can win us the most games."

So how does Judon earn that trust? He has to take his game to the next level in all areas.

"I am looking for a great player out of Matt. I think he is going to be a great player," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Thursday.

"One thing about him is that he gives it everything he has. He works hard. He maxes out the weight room. He maxes out the practice field. He is into it in the meetings. He knows football. I am looking for a difference-maker-type of a defensive player."

Judon led the nation in sacks (21) in 2015, his last year in college. Granted, it was against smaller-school competition, but it's still a heck of a feat. He brings double-digit sack potential to the table.

Judon said he spent the offseason trimming a little fat. He slimmed down and gained a bit more hip flexibility, which should help him improve as a pass rusher.

He also needs to develop into more of a run-stopper on the edge. Judon has the size (6-foot-3, 275 pounds) and strength. So far in OTAs, he's flown around the field and been quite disruptive in the backfield.

"I want to be a complete player," Judon said. "I don't want to only come in on second-and-long and third down. I want to play all three downs."

Judon spent much of his offseason at the Under Armour Performance Center, where he trained with some of his fellow teammates, including safety Eric Weddle. He's feeling more like a veteran now instead of a wide-eyed prospect.

It's often said that players make their biggest leap between Year 1 and Year 2. Judon could be one of those breakout players this season.

"A year really makes a difference," he said. "I have a year under my belt. I am more comfortable out here. I know the system a lot more. I've done more studying, because I have had the playbook all offseason."

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