The Ravens could still add a veteran free-agent pass rusher or select one in the early rounds of April’s NFL Draft.
But there’s no doubt that, after the loss of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency, part of the solution for Baltimore’s need for pass rushers will come internally.
Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams are entering their third NFL seasons after two years spent in the shadows of their veteran teammates.
Bowser, a second-round pick, and Williams, a third-round selection, have zero starts and 5.5 sacks between them in two years. The Ravens will likely need one, or both, to take on a larger role next season.
Before free agency started, Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hotiz said pass rusher is a position where Baltimore always wants to keep stacking talent from the draft because sack artists often move on. Just look at Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2015, as an example.
It’s widely-projected that the Ravens could take an edge rusher as early as the first round this year. But Baltimore may not feel it’s an absolute must.
“The book ain’t written yet on the ones we drafted the past couple of years,” Hortiz said on "The Lounge" podcast, referring to Bowser and Williams. “Some guys take a little time.”
Hortiz pointed to Paul Kruger, who the Ravens drafted in the second round in 2009. Over his first two seasons, Kruger logged just 20 tackles and one sack as he sat behind veteran rushers. He started to emerge in his third year as a situational pass rusher who logged 5.5 sacks, then broke out in his fourth year as a key member of the Ravens’ Super Bowl squad, posting nine regular-season sacks and four more in the playoffs.
So could Bowser and Williams follow a similar path and start to put it all together in Year 3?
“Absolutely,” Hortiz said. “They both have shown flashes of it.”
Williams stood out last summer, when he notched a sack in three straight games. He followed that up with two more sacks in the first four regular-season games. However, hamstring and ankle injuries struck, and Williams didn’t play a game after Week 8.
“Tim was giving us some heat early on,” Hortiz said.
Williams recently expressed his confidence in a Year 3 breakout on Twitter. He’s been down this road before. In his first two seasons as Alabama, he had a combined 1.5 sacks. In his next two, he had 18.5, establishing himself as one of college football’s premier pass rushers.
As a rookie, Boswer had three sacks and an interception. He saw a slight uptick in defensive snaps (16.6 percent, per Pro Football Focus) last season. Hortiz views Bowser’s strong suit as being a versatile, athletic player on the edge rather than a pure pass rusher, but the Houston product has shown that getting after quarterbacks is part of his skillset.
“You go back to his rookie year where he had that critical sack against Pittsburgh where he just flat-out won the rep,” Hortiz said. “He beat their right tackle, dipped around the edge, got to Ben [Roethlisberger] in a critical moment.
“So it’s there. We push these guys and we need them to meet us there. I think they will. I just think some guys take a little time.”