Jadeveon Clowney, Kyle Van Noy Both 'Perfect Fits' for Ravens
When Jadeveon Clowney was on the trading block last year, there was rampant speculation about the Ravens being a potential trade partner for the edge rusher, who ultimately was dealt by the Houston Texans to the Seattle Seahawks.
Now that Clowney is a prospective free agent, Baltimore once again is being discussed as a possible landing spot for the 27-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl selection and former No. 1-overall pick. NFL Network's Michael Robinson is the latest pundit to declare that the Ravens a "perfect fit" for Clowney.
"[The Ravens] only had 37 sacks last year, and to get those 37 sacks they had to blitz over 55 percent of the time to get to the quarterback," Robinson said. "Why can't they just drop back with their defensive backs and get to teams with their front four like they used to when they had Terrell Suggs?
" … I think Jadeveon Clowney would fit into that culture there. And I know people talk about his motor sometimes and taking plays off, [well] you can't do that when you got Earl Thomas on the back end always in your ear, so I think Baltimore would be perfect for him."
That all sounds good, but signing a player who is likely to be one of the most coveted free agents on the market obviously is easier said than done, no matter how much of a perfect fit it may seem to be.
Clowney told ESPN's Josina Anderson he "would definitely like to return to Seattle," but he's "also open to new opportunities if it comes to that."
Translation: The Seahawks may not be willing to pay him as much as other teams. Spotrac projected Clowney's average annual salary to be $20 million. The Ravens have about $30 million in cap space, which places them in the bottom third of the league.
"If the Ravens franchise outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and that seems to be the expectation at the moment, the $16 to $18 million tag would make it tough for the team to make too many other moves of significance," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "It almost certainly would preclude them from bidding on potential top free-agent pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue. However, it's fair to question whether the Ravens would be willing to pay more than $20 million per year for a free agent even if they had the cap space."
A less expensive option would be Kyle Van Noy, who was described by ESPN's Ben Linsey as a "perfect match" for the Ravens.
Van Noy, who turns 29 this month, started 43 games for the New England Patriots over the past three seasons and was a key member of their No. 1-ranked defense in 2019.
"As an off-ball linebacker/edge defender hybrid who transitioned to a primary edge role with the Patriots last season, Van Noy looks to be a perfect fit on the Baltimore defense, and he will come at a price well below the Jadeveon Clowneys and Yannick Ngakoues of the world," Linsey wrote.
"There is a bit of risk involved with Van Noy, given that his 84.2 overall grade in 2019 was easily a career high, but if he can turn in a similar performance in 2020, he'd add a much-needed spark off the edge for a Ravens team that relied heavily on the blitz to generate pressure last season."
Van Noy seems to possess the "play like a Raven" mentality. He told ESPN's Mike Reiss, "I'm a guy you want to have on your team.
"I may not have the star [power] or whatever people say it is. I might not have the [measurables] – the biggest or smallest dude – but what I am proud about is if you put a football on the field, you know who is going to show up every single game, all game. You can count on me as a teammate. If you talk to my teammates, they could say the same thing and that's what I think I'm most proud about."
Daniel Jeremiah Mocks Running Back to Ravens in Post-Combine Draft
Now that the NFL Scouting Combine is in the books, a new batch of mock drafts have come out. While a majority of previous mock drafts had Baltimore using the 28th-overall pick on an edge rusher, linebacker, or wide receiver, some new ones have the Ravens selecting players who wouldn't fill an obvious need.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah mocks Georgia running back D'Andre Swift to the Ravens, even though they set an NFL single-season rushing record last season and have all their running backs returning.
"The Ravens have always believed in taking the best available player," wrote Jeremiah, a former NFL scout with the Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. "Mark Ingram, Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards each ran the ball 133 times or more in 2019, but there are plenty of carries to go around in this offense."
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. rated Swift as the top running back in the draft and placed him at No. 16 on his Big Board. Coincidentally, the 5-foot-9, 215-pound Swift, who ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the Combine, is the same height and weight as Ingram.
"It starts with speed, as Swift is one of the fastest running backs in the country. But he also has a physical side, and he makes tacklers miss," Kiper wrote. "After running for 1,049 yards as part of a rotation in 2018, Swift was the Bulldogs' clear No. 1 back this past season. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry with eight total touchdowns. He caught 32 passes in 2018, so he is already a third-down threat. That versatility will be important for his future."
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler wrote that based on the way the board fell in Jeremiah's mock draft – the top players at the Ravens' positions of need were all gone prior to the 28th slot –
Baltimore selecting Swift makes sense.
"Drafting Swift would allow the Ravens to have one of the most talented backfield's in NFL history," Schisler wrote. "Imagine a world where a first-round talent became the leading back in Baltimore. Ingram could be the most dangerous No. 2 running back you'll ever see. Edwards could be used as a hammer to gash tired defenses in the second half. Justice Hill could be used in a more specialized role and could chip a lot into the team via special teams.
"If the Ravens draft Swift and then hammer away at their needs on the second night of the draft, they're going to be in a good place."
Two New Mock Drafts Have Ravens Picking Safeties
Speaking of projecting picks outside the obvious needs, Pro Football Focus' Michael Renner mocks safety Kyle Dugger of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne to Baltimore.
"Dugger fits into the Ravens' positionless defense with his freakish athletic ability," Renner wrote. "His 4.49 40, 42-inch vertical and 11-foot-2 broad jump at 217 pounds are silly numbers. Not only is he explosive, but he plays with a recklessness you can't teach. He'll be a deadly weapon for the Ravens as a blitzer."
Using draft simulators, Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens mocked Alabama safety Xavier McKinney to the Ravens.
"I know that safety is pretty low down on Baltimore's list of needs this offseason," Stevens wrote. "But when a guy falls to the Ravens, they have a tendency to take him, especially if it's a defensive back. McKinney is a smart player, has good acceleration, is a thumper when he tackles and is a ball hawk (five interceptions over the last two seasons at Alabama)."
McKinney also could boost the Ravens' return game. He had a 14.6-yard average and two touchdowns on 12 punt returns as a senior. He was an all-conference selection as a return specialist his junior year, averaging 17.2 yards per punt return and scoring twice in addition to nine kick returns for a 20-yard average.
Stevens wrote that McKinney wouldn't start for the Ravens as a rookie, but neither did 2017 first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey (he did start five games), and McKinney could learn under Thomas.
Three Non-Judon Questions Ravens Need to Address
The Ravens' most pivotal decision this offseason revolves around Judon, but it's not the only question the team needs to answer. Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz identified three subjects the team has to address before the start of free agency (recruiting begins March 16).
Here are some excerpts:
Should the Ravens exercise the option on defensive back Brandon Carr's contract?
Carr, who turns 34 in May, has never missed a start in his 12-year career and has provided depth and flexibility in the secondary.
"The question is whether Carr's traits are worth $7 million in salary cap commitments," Kasinitz wrote. "If the Ravens declined to pick up that option, they'd save money under the cap. That would help Baltimore generate extra financial wiggle room, which could allow [General Manager Eric] DeCosta a better chance to land big name free agents later this month or plug other holes on the roster. Even without Carr, the Ravens have a stellar starting five in the secondary signed through next season.
"Carr's a well-respected veteran who wouldn't be easy to let go. It's also hard for shrewd GMs like DeCosta to ignore a large chunk of potential salary cap savings."
Which pending free agents should be re-signed?
"DeCosta said he expects cornerback Jimmy Smith to test the open market, but the Ravens might have the option of bringing back a few other defenders like defensive end Jihad Ward or special teams ace Anthony Levine," Kasinitz wrote.
Are the Ravens close on any major long-term extensions?
Two All-Pros who could hit free agency within the next two years are left tackle Ronnie Stanley (2021) and Humphrey (2022). DeCosta said at his press conference at the Combine that the Ravens are discussing long-term extensions with both players.
"It's unlikely that Baltimore will lock either Humphrey or Stanley into multi-year deals over the next few weeks, because those contracts would be lucrative and neither player is under pressure to sign immediately," Kasinitz wrote. "Still, it'd behoove the Ravens to at least assess the likelihood that they'll keep Stanley or Humphrey and try to forecast how potential contracts could shape up."