Will Ravens Overtake Texans for NFL's Top Defense?
The Houston Texans have a really, really good defense.
They finished atop the league last season in yards allowed per game (301.3). And that's despite their best player, All-World defensive end J.J. Watt, playing in only three games (back surgery).
The Ravens had the best defense in the league last year until a late-season stumble, and finished at No. 7 overall (322.1).
So who will have the NFL's best defense in 2017?
NFL Network's Willie McGinest said he believes the Texans can do it again. Well, Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams had a Twitter response to that.
The Ravens defense already had a leg up in some areas last year.
Baltimore gave up fewer points per game than the Texans, 20.1 to 20.5. The Ravens defense grabbed 28 turnovers (18 interceptions, 10 fumbles) while the Texans had 17 (11 interceptions, six fumbles).
The Texans had the second-stingiest secondary in the league last year (201.6 passing yards per game), but franchise cornerback A.J. Bouye left for the Jacksonville Jaguars on a massive deal. They also let starting safety Quintin Demps walk.
The Ravens, who had the league's No. 9-ranked pass defense (232.8) have invested a ton into their secondary, signing safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr, and drafting cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round. Edge, Ravens.
In the front seven, things get trickier to sort out, however. Neither team was especially strong at getting after quarterbacks last season, with 31 sacks each (tied for 24th in the league).
A healthy Watt, a three-time defensive player of the year who racked up 69 sacks from 2012 to 2015, would make a huge difference for the Texans in that category. The Texans also still have former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who is coming off the best season of his career. Houston only let outside linebacker and former Raven John Simon walk in free agency.
Baltimore lost four starters in the front seven: defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (trade), defensive end Lawrence Guy (free agency), inside linebacker Zachary Orr (retirement) and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (released).
But the Ravens invested much more heavily in restocking that unit. The Ravens drafted pass rushing linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams in the second and third rounds, and defensive end Chris Wormley in the third. Houston drafted inside linebacker Zach Cunningham in the second round.
While Baltimore's first four draft picks were all on defense, the Texans used three of their first four selections on offense, including first-round quarterback Deshaun Watson. Houston didn't make any free-agency signings on defense.
Houston's biggest defensive move was naming Mike Vrabel its new defensive coordinator. A former NFL linebacker, Vrabel was coached by Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees for five years when they were together in New England (2004-2008).
There's plenty of time for this debate, but one thing is for sure. It should make for quite a show on Nov. 27 when the Ravens and Texans meet on Monday Night Football at M&T Bank Stadium.
13 Alabama Players Among Kiper's Top 2018 Prospects
Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome drafted two Alabama prospects this year in Humphrey and Williams. Baltimore made Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley its first-round selection in 2014 and Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw its top pick in 2012.
So it may not be a stretch to ask which of the Crimson Tide prospects on Mel Kiper's way-too-early 2018 draft positional rankings will end up in Baltimore.
Kiper lists 13 Alabama prospects, which includes seniors who will definitely be available in next year's draft and underclassmen who could declare early. Here's the list (ordered by position):
- RB Bo Scarbrough
- RB Damien Harris
- WR Calvin Ridley
- G Ross Pierschbacher
- C Bradley Bozeman
- DE Da'Shawn Hand
- DT Da'Ron Payne
- ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton
- ILB Rashaan Evans
- CB Anthony Averett
- CB Minkah Fitzpatrick
- S Ronnie Harrison
- P JK Scott
Newsome has shown a penchant for Alabama's defensive talent, and Humphrey wasn't the only ultra-talented player in the Tide's secondary last season. However, Scarbrough and Ridley are also alluring talents.
Fitzpatrick is currently No. 2 on Kiper's way-too-early big board, Ridley is No. 9 and Harrison is No. 13.
Check out some highlights:
Former Raven, Baltimore Native is Working on Wall Street
Baltimore native and former Ravens linebacker Brandon Copeland has fought his way into the NFL. Now he's making sure he's got a backup plan.
Copeland has been working on Wall Street this offseason, and is the subject of a lengthy feature on ESPN.com.
"The 25-year-old Wharton graduate joined the financial world with an offseason job at Weiss in March as a spring analyst -- balancing training to make the Detroit Lions for the third straight season with preparing for a future following football," wrote Michael Rothstein. "The gig officially lasts until June but could be around in perpetuity if Copeland wants."
Copeland signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. After making the transition from defensive end to linebacker, he was cut at the end of training camp, though he made an impression with a one-handed juggling interception against the Detroit Lions in the preseason.
Copeland signed with the Tennessee Titans' practice squad in October and spent time bouncing on and off their roster. In 2015, after being assigned to the Arena Football League's Orlando Predators, Copeland finally got a big break with the Lions. He has been on their 53-man roster the past two seasons, playing in all 16 games each season and making a combined 30 tackles.
His story off the field, however, is even more impressive. For example, he lives on just 15 percent of his NFL salary. Give the story a read.