Late for Work 2/6: ESPN Predicts Ravens Will Sign Jags Defensive Star

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell (93) runs onto the field at the end of halftime during an NFL football game.
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell (93) runs onto the field at the end of halftime during an NFL football game.

ESPN Predicts Ravens Sign Calais Campbell

ESPN asked its NFL reporters to make an offseason prediction about the team they cover, and ESPN's Jamsion Hensley predicted the Ravens will boost their pass rush by signing a guy who played for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season.

No, it's not former Maryland star Yannick Ngakoue; it's veteran defensive end Calais Campbell.

"Campbell, an expected salary-cap cut in Jacksonville, has totaled 31.5 sacks over the past three seasons -- seventh most in the NFL over that span (and just one fewer than Denver's Von Miller)," Hensley wrote. "Even though he's 33, Campbell has many of the traits the Ravens love: durability, versatility (can provide rush on the edge and interior) and strong leadership skills. While adding Jaguars pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue would create a bigger splash, Campbell would represent bigger value for a defense looking to restock its front seven."

A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Campbell was ranked as the 26th-best player in the league by Pro Football Focus, which also named Campbell as the winner of its Best Run Defender award.

"Campbell had the best run-defense grade of any edge rusher (90.6) and also added 71 total pressures as a pass-rushing force for the Jaguars," PFF's Sam Monson wrote. "Campbell isn't always deployed as a true edge rusher for the Jags, as he moves around the defensive line and uses his size and versatility to make impact plays from a more interior alignment, as well. Regardless of where he lines up, he is a problem for offensive lines and blocking schemes to handle."

The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell was named the Defensive MVP of this year's Pro Bowl after forcing a fumble. Six days later, he won the NFL's prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field.

Ravens Are Biggest Threat to Chiefs Repeat

The Kansas City Chiefs are favored to repeat as Super Bowl champions, as talk of them becoming the NFL's next dynasty is heating up. The Ravens figure to have something to say about that, however.

Returning the majority of their starters from a 14-2 squad, the Ravens are the consensus team most likely to dethrone the Chiefs.

On NFL.com's Adam Schein's rankings of the teams with the biggest Super Bowl windows, the Chiefs and Ravens are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. For the Ravens, the optimism obviously starts with unanimous league MVP Lamar Jackson.

"The frightening thing for opponents is that it feels like he's just scratching the surface of his ultimate potential," Schein wrote. "Having just turned 23 last month, Jackson will only get better in every element of being a quarterback. Not to mention, he now has a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder after the Divisional Round loss to Tennessee.

"And Jackson has the right people around him to maximize his truly rare skill set. John Harbaugh is a fantastic coach. Eric DeCosta is an astute general manager. The coaching staff, overall, is excellent. The talent is strong and deep. Get used to Baltimore being squarely in the title hunt for a long, long time."

In The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia's predictions for 2020, he picked the Ravens to win the Super Bowl.

"The case for the Ravens is straightforward," Kapadia wrote. "They were young on offense with Lamar Jackson, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Mark Andrews and others. Those guys can use their playoff loss as a learning experience and motivation for next season. John Harbaugh will stay committed to process over results. And the Ravens return both coordinators — Greg Roman and 'Wink' Martindale — from a year ago."

Kapadia added that the Ravens are well-equipped to address their offseason needs.

"They need to add more to their pass rush and can't expect older players like Mark Ingram and Earl Thomas to perform at quite the same level," Kapadia wrote. "But the Ravens have five picks in the first four rounds (and could have as many as seven with compensatory picks) and are positioned to come back strong."

Good Morning Football's Nate Burleson also believes the Ravens are the Chiefs' top challengers.

"The Baltimore Ravens had a season that was filled with destiny but it ended with destiny unfulfilled. … I feel like next year, with the season that [Jackson had], winning the regular-season MVP, it's going to be the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens," Burleson said.

Burleson lamented that we didn't get to see a Chiefs-Ravens AFC Championship Game – which would have been played at M&T Bank Stadium – in this season's playoffs.

"If [the Ravens being upset by the Titans] didn't happen, can you only imagine what would've happened next?" Burleson said. "We really don't know. [The Ravens] are built to take exactly what [the Chiefs] do special and put it on the sideline. I thought if the Baltimore Ravens would've won that game against the Titans, they would've given the Chiefs a run for their money. It would've been one of those games that would've went down in history. In the moments that matter, Lamar Jackson would've went off."

Burleson said he cannot wait to see what Jackson does for an encore next season.

"I think we truly forget how entertaining he was this year," Burleson said. "We're going to celebrate the Chiefs, and rightfully so, but there were moments this year where he was literally like a video game and we came in jaws-dropped every single Monday because we couldn't believe what Lamar Jackson was doing."

As for Jackson's detractors, Kapadia offered the following warning: "Be cautious with your Jackson takes this offseason or risk getting hit by Old Takes Exposed next offseason."

Defense Is Key to Ravens Winning Super Bowl

While Jackson and Mahomes deservedly get a lot of credit for their teams' success, The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck wrote the adage that defense wins championships remains true.

"The supposedly deficient Chiefs defense was able to hold the 49ers to 10 points in the first half [in the Super Bowl] and make some big stops after Mahomes threw a pair of third-quarter interceptions and Kansas City entered the fourth quarter trailing 20-10," Schmuck wrote.

"That allowed Mahomes to do what he had done in his previous two playoff games. He settled down and engineered three touchdown drives and left no doubt who was the best individual player on sport's biggest stage. The Kansas City defense pretty much got lost in the shower of confetti."

As for the Ravens, the league's No. 4-ranked defense allowed Titans running back Derrick Henry to rush for 195 yards in their AFC divisional game.

"They ... will have much of that strong defense back, but they need to focus on developing a scarier pass rush after ranking 23rd in the league with just 37 sacks during the regular season," Schmuck wrote. "That number is a bit deceptive, since they did a good job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, but we're talking about what it will take to go from being the winningest team in the league to leaving nothing to chance in the postseason.

"If we're talking Super Bowl or bust, Jackson has to deliver a suitable encore to his MVP season, but it will be the defense that gets the Ravens there next year."

Prioritizing Ravens' Free Agents

It's fun to speculate on which free agents the Ravens will pursue, but before they shop for new faces, they must decide which familiar faces need to be re-signed.

Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw ranked the Ravens' top five pending free agents based on priority. Not surprisingly, outside linebacker Matthew Judon is at the top of the list, which was composed entirely of defensive players.

The 27-year-old Judon just had his best season, recording 9.5 sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl selection.

"Judon could be a luxury they can't afford," Bradshaw wrote. "Thankfully, the franchise tag is here to save the day and help the Ravens out tremendously. Baltimore shouldn't overthink this and [should] tag Judon for 2020."

Here are excerpts from what Bradshaw wrote about the four other players on his list:

DT Michael Pierce: "Bringing back Pierce is a heavy investment, but it could be entirely worth it. Pierce and Brandon Williams have teamed up to form a formidable defensive line that makes it almost impossible for opposing offenses to run on. … It's tough to let such a splendid young man walk, but Baltimore is likely going to be faced with that reality. The team did draft Daylon Mack in last year's draft to potentially replace Pierce should this scenario arise."

CB Jimmy Smith: "Smith will be 32-years old by the time the season starts, but he played at a high level in 2019 despite not being 100 percent. Baltimore can still rely on Smith to play well in 2020 and should make bringing him back one of their top priorities."

LB Patrick Onwuasor: "Onwuasor … was often overshadowed by guys like Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, both of whom were added midseason. … The Ravens would love to keep Patrick Onwuasor around for the right price, but they could very easily be outbid. Players with Onwuasor's skill set are hard to come by, and teams will be attracted to his upside."

DB/LB Anthony Levine: "He's been a steady contributor for the team both on special teams and even in a new hybrid role on defense. … Levine's versatility is something that often goes overlooked by Ravens fans, but without him, the defense wouldn't be as stout as [it has] been."

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