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Late for Work 4/13: How the Ravens Can Address Their Need at Pass Rusher

Left: Purdue DE George Karlaftis plays against Wisconsin during the second half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Right: Florida State DE Jermaine Johnson II is shown during an NCAA football game against Notre Dame on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021 in Tallahassee, Fla.

Ravens Pass Rush "Remains an Area of Concern"

The Ravens want to improve their defense, and they've made it clear not only with words, but actions.

Since the offseason began, the Ravens have changed defensive coordinators, signed star safety Marcus Williams and defensive tackle Michael Pierce, along with re-signing inside linebacker Josh Bynes and defensive end Calais Campbell. They also pursued a deal with outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, but Smith backed out of his verbal agreement with the team. But for all the moves made, the media still has concern about one area of the defense: the pass rush.

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, ESPN's Jamison Hensley and The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer all cited the Ravens pass rush as a need.

"Za'Darius Smith backing out of a verbal agreement to sign left the Ravens with a very thin depth chart at outside linebacker and very few in-their-prime options to consider in free agency," Zrebiec wrote. "Right now, the Ravens' projected starters on the edge, Odafe Oweh and Tyus Bowser, are coming off offseason surgeries. Their projected backups, Jaylon Ferguson and Daelin Hayes, each had zero sacks last year."

"The pass rush [remains an area of concern.] Baltimore's top two outside linebackers (Odafe Oweh and Tyus Bowser) are coming off offseason surgeries," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore, which hasn't had anyone produce double-digit sacks since 2017, needs to find someone to go after Burrow and Watson."

"Most of all, though, after finishing 28th in sack rate and 24th in pressure rate last season, according to Pro Football Reference, they will need some new pass-rush juice," Shaffer wrote. "The top edge rushers still available, including Jadeveon Clowney and Justin Houston, are only short-term solutions. That puts tremendous pressure on the Ravens to find an impact player with one of their first three picks in the draft."

Zrebiec did provide a way to improve the pass rush in The Athletic's Beat Writer Mock Draft, where he selected outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson II with the No. 14 overall pick.

"Johnson not only should bring some juice off the edge, but he's touted as a solid edge setter against the run," Zrebiec wrote. "It would have been nice to get an offensive tackle or a cornerback here, but there was no obvious fit. Johnson is well more than a consolation prize."

The Athletic's Dane Brugler believes Johnson would be a great scenario for both the player and the Ravens.

"It seems to happen every year: Good players fall to the Ravens in the draft. And that is the case in this scenario with Johnson landing in Baltimore," Brugler wrote. "Equally talented versus the run and as a pass rusher, he is instinctive, ferocious and sound with the athleticism to give blockers trouble."

Hensley also sees the Ravens eyeing an edge rusher with the No. 14 overall pick, mentioning outside linebacker George Karlaftis.

"Purdue outside linebacker George Karlaftis has what the Ravens covet in defensive players -- aggressiveness and a high motor," Hensley wrote. "Karlaftis would form a young and explosive pass-rush duo with Oweh."

A different mock draft, one by PFF's Anthony Treash, considers a high-risk option for the Ravens where they select edge rusher David Ojabo with their second-round pick.

"Despite the Achilles injury he suffered during his pro day, Ojabo still shouldn't fall further than the middle of Round 2. That's the kind of upside he possesses," Treash wrote. "Reuniting with Mike Macdonald (his defensive coordinator from Michigan) and former high school teammate Odafe Oweh would be ideal for the former Wolverine and a good fit for both parties. Ojabo is an extraordinary athlete who definitely flashed top-tier talent, as he produced multiple elite pass-rush grades above 90.0. At the same time, his production was somewhat inconsistent and his run defense is a big issue. There's risk involved, but the Ravens can afford the risk at 45th overall."

Ray Lewis: There Is No Way We Can Let Lamar Leave Baltimore

With Lamar Jackson still not having signed a contract extension, his future is the subject of endless media chatter. The most recent version of such talk came from ESPN's Jeremy Fowler on Get Up, where Fowler suggested the Ravens could end up trading the quarterback.

"Talking to some execs around the league and they believe that [Jackson's] going to need that Desean Watson type treatment. We're talking $45-$46 million," Fowler said. "They're uncertain whether Baltimore really wants to pay that so this could be a year-to-year situation… maybe they have to franchise tag him and even trade him down the road because the money could just get so outrageous."

After Fowler suggested the possibility of the Ravens trading Jackson, former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott argued against the idea.

"[There's] not a world where they would ever trade Lamar Jackson," Scott said. "He has lived up to expectations and exceeded expectations. When he sat on that stage with Prime Time [Deion Sanders] and told them that he's bringing a Super Bowl [to Baltimore.] Listen, his first four years he only made $9 million. Yes, they picked up his option, so they owe him this money and like you said, patience is a virtue. He's waited, he's been patient and he's going to benefit because now we live in a world where Deshaun Watson has got the most ever guaranteed. We live in a world where Matthew Stafford has been paid this money, so by him waiting he doesn't worry about it because he's going to be a rich man regardless."

Ray Lewis joined Stephen A. Smith on "Stephen A’s World" and also dislikes the idea of trading Jackson.

"Maybe [Jackson] doesn't want the lawyers, the agents and all of that stuff, I get it," Lewis said. "Sometimes, you get tired of giving your money away. I think we have to get something done… It would be crazy if we ever came close to letting him hit the market. This is his last year coming up… and I'm telling you there is no way we can let Lamar leave Baltimore."

Did Injury Risk Play a Factor in the Ravens Not Re-Signing Their Free Agent Cornerbacks?

The Ravens are expected to have two All-Pro cornerbacks, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, returning for the 2022 season. But Tavon Young, Anthony Averett and Chris Westry, all familiar names, are no longer behind those two.

This offseason, the Ravens released Young, and he signed with the Chicago Bears. Westry, who didn't receive a tender, signed with the Carolina Panthers and Averett joined the Las Vegas Raiders on a one-year, $4.5 million deal. But with all three signing for low terms and price tags, Zrebiec, who joined the "Fanimal Radio" podcast, considered the injury concerns of the players as a reason why the Ravens may not have been interested in matching the other offers.

"People are fed-up with the Ravens sustaining so many injuries," Zrebiec said. "And you can change your training method—the Ravens are doing that. You can change your practice schedule—the Ravens are doing that. You can change a lot of different things but if you're relying on guys who are frequently injured, you're going to deal with injuries."

Since being drafted by the Ravens, Young missed three seasons due to injury, and Westry, who missed the 2019 season after signing with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, also missed 11 games for the Ravens in 2021 due to a torn meniscus.

"The Ravens, I think, felt lucky they got 17 games out of Tavon Young, but let's be honest, there were games he could barely play…but basically with both of those guys, Young and Westry, it seemed like a case of, 'We'll offer you the veteran minimum here, but we have to protect ourselves.' Cause there's some injury concerns there and [the Ravens] are not going to tie up some money in injury guys as much as we have in the past."

As for Averett, Zrebiec thinks it could be due to not breaking more into the starting lineup with Humphrey and Peters returning.

"The Averett one I don't understand," Zrebiec said. "I haven't gotten the opportunity to talk to him or his agent. I do wonder if he just wanted a change of scenery knowing Humphrey and Peters were going to be back. He's not a slot, a real inside corner so he most likely would potentially be a fourth corner and he could be better than that somewhere else but I'm not sure exactly what led to [him leaving.] I would have been all over Anthony Averett on a one-year, $4.5 million to be honest. But in the other cases, it just seemed like they're kind of scared off from making any commitment, even a minor one, because of injuries."

Brian McFarland, a co-host of the show, agreed that Averett likely wanted to compete elsewhere and maximize his value, and thinks the injury concerns regarding Westry is what made them avoid re-signing the young cornerback.

"I have a feeling Averett, he's going to get an opportunity to at least compete to start. So, I think that's probably, you're looking at a one-year deal, whether it was [in Baltimore] or elsewhere, you want the most playing time possible… I think Westry's the one that surprises me the most because his deal is $825,000. Which it's basically the minimum for his time of service. That certainly wasn't about money."

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