Matthew Judon: Ravens' Defense Can be 'Legendary'
Despite finishing the last season as the top-ranked defense, the Ravens have been left out of the national conversation of the top defensive groups heading into 2019.
It's mainly because of the losses of C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith, yet there's still an air of confidence in Baltimore that this can be one of the best defensive teams in the NFL.
Pass rusher Matthew Judon joined 105.7 the Fan’s “Vinny and Haynie,” and believes the defense could be even better than last year.
"We can be legendary, one of the best," Judon said. "You've got to say those things, and you've got to believe those things to obtain those things. You can't be shy or timid to say we can be the best defense out there. … Some people are going to call you crazy. They might have called us crazy last year, but we did it, and we obtained it, so that's what we are going to do again."
Some pundits believe the offseason losses are exaggerated.
Judon expressed full confidence in the pass rush group this season and believes they have something to prove.
"I think we've got a lot of hungry young guys that didn't get a lot of time because we had Za'Darius and we had Siz [Suggs]," Judon said. "... We are only young until we prove it. We hit 14, 15 sacks, and then we aren't going to be young anymore, we are going to be talked about."
The addition of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas solidifies the Ravens as one of the top secondaries in the NFL, and third-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey is emerging as one of the top players at the position.
"Humphrey was brought along slowly by the Ravens in his rookie season, playing more than 30 snaps on defense just twice in the opening nine games of the 2017 season," Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuiness wrote. "However, he was still able to show flashes of what was to come by allowing only 13 of 27 passes thrown into his coverage to be caught and coming away with four pass breakups.
"He became a staple of the team's defense late in the year, however, starting the final four games of the season and playing a season-high 89 snaps against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14. That game saw him in coverage for 73 of 89 snaps and targeted 12 times, while he allowed six receptions, those receptions went for a total of just 37 yards, averaging out at a mere 6.2 yards per reception."
Not to mention, one of the defense's biggest weapons won't be on the field, but rather on the sideline.
Defensive Coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale was fantastic during his first season leading the defense and Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko believes Martindale could compete as a top candidate for Assistant Coach of the Year.
"He could have an even better chance at winning it this year, however, as another strong performance by the Ravens defense would be even more impressive given the losses of C.J. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith, and Terrell Suggs," Platko wrote.
The improvement of the defense in Martindale's second season is already showing.
"Despite the losses of those key players, the Ravens have played even quicker and more seamlessly on defense this offseason with a year of experience playing under Martindale's system under their belts," Forbes’ Todd Karpovich wrote.
PFF: Ravens Rank Among Top O-Line Groups
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens' new-look offense under Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has garnered plenty of discussion, and its success relies heavily on the play of the offensive line.
Pro Football Focus ranked the offensive line units for all 32 teams, and the Ravens came in at No. 11, trailing only the Steelers in the AFC North.
On the outside, Lamar Jackson is protected by two emerging offensive tackles.
"Orlando Brown Jr. didn't blow the doors off the NFL in his debut season, but he did turn in plus play in pass protection (75.1 pass-blocking grade) and showed signs of improvement in all areas down the stretch of last season," PFF wrote. "Opposite Brown, former first-rounder Ronnie Stanley has developed into one of the league's best young offensive tackles in the game, earning a 75.8 overall grade and an 87.0 pass-blocking grade a year ago."
Matt Skura earned the NFL's highest performance-based bonus after starting 16 games at center last year and is expected to anchor the position again in 2019. Marshal Yanda returns at right guard for another season and is the glue that holds the offensive line together.
"Success comes easy for the 34-year-old veteran even as his career starts to wind down, as he is hasn't earned an overall grade under 75.0 or a pass-blocking grade under 80.0 in the last eight years," PFF wrote.
The Athletic's Ted Nguyen listed Yanda as one of the 10 most valuable, versatile players in the NFL.
"[Yanda has] been one of the best guards in the NFL for most of his career, but he's also played multiple positions in a pinch," Nguyen wrote. "In his career, he's taken two snaps at left tackle, 470 snaps at left guard, 8,475 snaps at right guard, and 2,430 snaps at right tackle. Though he isn't his best when he's not playing right guard, he's more than held his own wherever he's played."
It's interesting to note that PFF projected Alex Lewis as the starting left guard. The position is wide open heading into training camp. James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor, Bradley Bozeman and rookie fourth-round pick Ben Powers are expected to compete with Lewis for playing time.
If Lewis starts, the Ravens will be one of only a handful of teams to return all five Week 1 starters from last season.
Reunion With Michael Crabtree?
The NFL free-agent market has almost completely died down, but a few notable names remain unsigned.
Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox listed one move every team should make before the 2019 season and thinks the Ravens should reunite with veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
"Baltimore would be wise to bring back Crabtree as insurance," Knox wrote. "He was productive enough in 2018—54 receptions and 607 yards—and he's familiar with most of the Ravens' offensive personnel.
"While the Ravens are clearly looking to get younger and more dynamic on offense, there's seemingly no reason not to sign Crabtree for at least the coming season."
The Ringer’s Danny Kelly noted that Crabtree could "still be a factor for a team looking to add an experienced possession receiver and red-zone threat."
Crabtree was released in February after just one season in Baltimore. His production was limited during the second half of the season when the Ravens transitioned to a run-first attack with Jackson under center.
Knox cited concerns surrounding Marquise Brown's Lisfranc foot injury, but the first-round pick is expected to be back by training camp.
With the additions of veterans Seth Roberts and Michael Floyd, it would be surprising to see the Ravens add another veteran pass-catcher to the depth chart at this point. Plus, the Ravens want to see what their young receivers can do this season.