Ozzie Newsome's Top Needs List Has One Unexpected Twist

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General Manager Ozzie Newsome laid out his offseason wish list:

  • Improved depth in the secondary
  • Bigger and stronger offensive line
  • Complementary wide receiver

It's a list that many Ravens fans would likely expect, but Newsome seemingly didn't see one area as being as big a need as some would think.

Pass rusher.

The Ravens finished with 31 sacks, tied for 24th in the NFL. They have two aging pass rushers in Terrell Suggs (34) and Elvis Dumervil (turns 33 next week), who both came back from Achilles injuries last season.

Thus, Newsome was asked whether pass rusher is a priority this offseason.

"I think it goes first to the two young guys that we have and getting them better – Matt [Judon] and Za'Darius [Smith]," Newsome said.

The Ravens made bolstering their pass rush a major priority last offseason and restocked the defense with young talent.

They chose linebacker Kamalei Correa in the second round, defensive end Bronson Kaufusi in the third and Judon in the fifth. Correa, who was learning inside linebacker, hardly saw the field on defense. Kaufusi missed the entire season with a broken leg.

Of the bunch, Judon was most impressive. He registered four sacks (third-most on the team) and 27 tackles. He showed good burst and a strong motor.

Judon saw 308 snaps this season, which was a third of the defensive snaps in games he was active for. Of those snaps, 185 (60 percent), were in pass-rush situations, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).

"He is a young, smart player," Harbaugh said. "He needs to continue to grow and grow up and become what I think he is capable of becoming. I really believe he is capable of playing as a premier-type of a guy, but we have to get there."

Smith is another piece of the Ravens' young pass rushers. The sophomore was coming off a strong rookie season in which he registered 5.5 sacks and 30 tackles, giving hope that the fourth-round pick could turn into the Ravens' next big rusher.

However, Smith dropped to one sack and 20 tackles this year. He was inactive for three games this season, but saw a higher percentage of the snaps (60 percent).

"Za'Darius Smith had a really good year the first year and did not have quite as good of a year this year," Harbaugh said. "He and I talk about that a lot. We have to get him back on track."

While the sack stats were down, a closer look at Smith's pass-rush effectiveness tells a different story. Smith got a better pass-rush grade this season than last from PFF, and had 22 quarterback hurries compared to just nine last year.

"He had five quarterbacks in his grasp in the first five games," Harbaugh said. "Those really should have all been sacks, and what a different year he would have had if he would have finished those sacks."

Judon and Smith could be asked to take on a bigger role next year, particularly if the Ravens were to part ways with Dumervil, who is scheduled to have the Ravens' fourth-highest cap hit in 2017. Both Suggs and Newsome expect Suggs to return next year.

"I don't think there's any pressure on us," Judon said. "There are expectations on us because that's why they drafted us here. But I don't think there's pressure.

"We just have to get better as football players, at doing what Sizzle has done for so many years here off the edge and applying pressure on the quarterback. It's knowing the situation and knowing what you're going to get."

While the Ravens like their young pass-rush options, they made it clear that they aren't opposed to adding more. Much like Newsome's credo with cornerbacks, a team can't have too many pass rushers. It's just that they're not easy to get; every team wants them.

Newsome said it's tough to draft an "elite" pass rusher unless a team is picking in the top four or five spots. The Ravens had their eye on Joey Bosa last year, but he went third overall to the San Diego Chargers and had an excellent rookie season (10.5 sacks).

Still, the Ravens will have their eyes peeled for any chance to get more pass rushers. One could become available in free agency.

"The answer is 'yes.' We are looking for another pass rusher, certainly," Harbaugh said.

"Anybody that can affect the passer – that would definitely help us on defense," Newsome added Tuesday. "If that player becomes available, whether it is by draft, whether it is by trade – all the different ways you can get one – because we have gotten guys through different manners."

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