Ravens Pass Rushers Rank Among Top Free Agents
Last week we detailed the decisions the Ravens will have to make on a number of their impending free agents, but how do pundits outside of Baltimore view them?
When it comes to the pass rushers, very highly.
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert ranked the top 50 free agents for 2021. Yannick Ngakoue was No. 6 on the list and Matthew Judon landed at No. 34.
"The Ravens have to decide which free-agent outside linebacker to invest in," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. "Judon is the more all-around linebacker, and Ngakoue is considered the better pure rusher. Baltimore has tried to get an extension with Judon, but he has been seeking a contract worth $20 million per season, according to a source. The Ravens could put the franchise tag on Ngakoue, but … [he] played just 20 snaps in Baltimore's playoff loss, which suggests he might not be in the team's long-term plans."
Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo ranked Ngakoue fourth and Judon ninth among his top edge defenders heading into free agency. The Bucs' Shaquil Barrett, Bengals' Carl Lawson and Titans' Jadeveon Clowney are in the top three.
The Ravens have said they would like to have Ngakoue and Judon back, but could the price tags be too high?
Spotrac projects Ngakoue and Judon's market value between $15-15.5 million annually. As of now, Baltimore is projected to have just over $10 million in cap space heading into free agency. The lower COVID-19 salary cap will impact players' earning potential across the league, however.
The Ravens aren't strangers to losing pass rushers in free agency, but losing Ngakoue and Judon would account for a significant portion of the pass rush production last season and be especially tough with Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee also slated to hit free agency.
"The Ravens will probably have better luck offering short-term deals to veterans such as McPhee and defensive end Derek Wolfe, who love playing in Martindale's defense," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "They'll have to rely on such moves and on the draft to make up for inevitable free-agent losses."
Daniel Jeremiah Mocks First-Round Edge Rusher to Ravens
Daniel Jeremiah called it last year when he mocked Patrick Queen to the Ravens at No. 28. Now the NFL Network analyst believes Baltimore will target another defensive player in the first round.
In his first mock draft, Jeremiah has the Ravens selecting Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari.
"Ojulari is a tough evaluation," Jeremiah wrote. "He's a little undersized, but he plays with excellent leverage and strength. The Ravens will love his energy and passion."
Ojulari had a breakout campaign for Georgia in 2020, totaling 31 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Sports Illustrated’s Brooks Austin pointed out Ojulari's burst and bend, and called him "one of the most consistent hand fighters" in the draft.
"In order to get after the quarterback in the NFL, you have to have elite quickness and Ojulari has it in spades," Austin wrote. "The common scouting term for this is twitch. Ojulari is consistently placing SEC tackles in poor body positioning, forcing them to open their hips early in the rep. This is a direct indicator of what the threat of a speed rush does to offensive tackles."
PFF’s Mike Renner also tabbed Ojulari as one of college football's biggest risers this season. Renner had the Georgia product going as high as No. 14 in his mock draft in late December.
"Ojulari consistently clowned left tackles throughout the SEC," Renner wrote. "He earned an 87.7 pass-rushing grade in nine games this season. Ojulari is undersized at 240 pounds, but his bend makes us think that it won't be a massive issue in the NFL."
Edge rusher is a premier position early in the draft, and it's been a popular target for the Ravens in recent mock drafts. Jaylon Ferguson is the only pass rusher under contract in Baltimore through the 2021 season.
"Remember, no team blitzed more in the NFL last season than the Ravens (44.1 percent), largely thanks to just how solid their secondary was in coverage last season," Ebony Bird’s Peter Panacy wrote. "But to get some added help within the pass-rush department, or at least find some likable replacements for players like Ngakoue, Bowser, [Judon], and McPhee, should any of them leave, would be a smart move to ensure that element of the defense doesn't suffer regression in 2021."
What About the Other Offseason Needs?
It's been just over a week since the start of the offseason for the Ravens, and we've already begun to discuss some of their biggest needs. But outside of wide receiver and edge rusher, what are their biggest needs?
That's what Baltimore Beatdown’s Vasilis Lericos looked at, sorting it into primary needs, depth needs, and luxury needs. In the primary needs (besides receiver and edge rusher) were interior offensive line, safety, and tight end.
Interior Offensive Line
"Adding a veteran center or rookie mauler could bring stability to a group that has been pushed around during big games in recent seasons," Lericos wrote. "For dominant rushing and passing offenses alike, success starts up front."
"Coordinator [Wink] Martindale navigated the 2020 season with only two viable safeties, perhaps explaining their regression in pass defense efficiency," Lericos wrote. "The dime package logged more snaps than the base alignment in 2019, producing outstanding results in sacks and takeaways. Drafting a rangy safety to complement starters Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott would allow use of the dime defense and help the defense to match-up better against the NFL's prolific passing offenses."
"Coordinator [Greg] Roman's 12-personnel package was one of the main drivers behind the record-setting 2019 offense," Lericos wrote. "… Surrounding Jackson with ample playmakers, including another receiving tight end, would be beneficial for his development as a passer."
Lericos highlighted defensive line and offensive tackle as potential depth needs for the Ravens. With Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams above 30, the Ravens could add more depth alongside Justin Madubuike and a young group of players. On the other side, Lericos believes adding a third tackle behind Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. is key.
Luxury needs like cornerback, quarterback, inside linebacker, and running back were seen as a position of strength for the Ravens this season, but areas they could continue to add to.
Gus Edwards Named Ravens' Under-the-Radar Stud
The Ravens ran at a historic pace again this season and Gus Edwards was a huge part of that success. Now the appreciation is stemming far beyond Baltimore.
NFL.com’s Nick Shook used NFL Next Gen Stats to identify one under-the-radar stud on each team and Edwards was his pick for the Ravens.
"We all paid plenty of attention to quarterback Lamar Jackson's elite rushing exploits and the rise of rookie runner J.K. Dobbins, but in the meantime, Edwards quietly usurped veteran Mark Ingram as the Ravens' second back and put together a solid season," Shook wrote. "Edwards rushed for 723 yards and six scores on 144 carries (5 yards per attempt) as part of the league's top rushing attack, and he made an even greater impact than most would realize when it came to Next Gen Stats."
Since joining the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Edwards has been the epitome of productivity. He's rushed for over 700 yards in three straight seasons, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
"Edwards finished with the eighth-most rushing yards over expectation on the season (+163), and his rushes over expectation percentage (the percentage of rushes in which a back exceeds expected rushing yards) was the highest in the NFL at 43.1 percent," Shook wrote.
Edwards also improved as a pass catcher out of the backfield this season, totaling nine catches for 129 yards. He has quietly been one of the league's most productive backs and he's finally getting recognized like it.
- It was a tough Championship weekend for Analyst Humph.