Ask teammates or coaches about Justin Madubuike and their enthusiasm is obvious.
Madubuike was a confident defensive tackle at OTAs and mandatory minicamp, giving off an air of a player ready to blossom in 2021. He became a regular part of the defensive line rotation down the stretch as a rookie and played his best football after missing the first four games with a leg injury.
Now he's looking forward to Year 2, and Madubuike is using this offseason as a springboard toward reaching another level as a player. He never had minicamps or OTAs as a rookie due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this offseason Madubuike has been one of the most impressive Ravens during workouts and people are noticing.
In March, defensive end Derek Wolfe said he felt Madubuike had Pro Bowl potential. After seeing him at mandatory minicamp, veteran defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams are echoing that thought.
"I think you should see a big jump," Campbell said. "He really has so much potential. He's strong, he's quick-twitchy, can get out of a stance very explosively, and then he's learning how to play with a good technique consistently. I think he's going to have a big year for us."
Campbell could often be seen coaching up Madubuike on his technique, and on the final day of mandatory minicamp, Madubuike asked Williams a series of questions and listened intently to the answers. Veterans love young players who are inquisitive, and Madubuike has the ability to process information quickly, transferring that knowledge to the field. Veterans see Madabuike's potential and want to help him maximize it.
"Madubuike can have as great of a season as he wants to," Williams said. "What I see right now, after last year, he's flying around. He has the playbook down a lot better. So, you can definitely see his feet being freed up, because he's thinking a lot less. I can't wait to see what he's going to bring on Sunday. I'm already seeing so many good things, but we still have work to do."
Head Coach John Harbaugh said Madubuike's progress is obvious since arriving in Baltimore as a third-round pick from Texas A&M.
"He played well last year, and I do think he's taken a big step," Harbaugh said. "He dropped to the third round for whatever reason, and we were very, very fortunate and blessed to get him there. The way he played last year to where he is right now is very encouraging. So, I'm excited about him. I can tell you the defensive line is excited about him, too. I saw Derek Wolfe over there celebrating with him a couple times on some things he did well. So, yes – we're fired up about Madubuike."
By late last season, Madabuike's quickness and power had become a problem for offensive linemen. His lone sack of the season came Week 15 against the New York Giants, and during each of Baltimore's two playoff games, Madubuike played nearly half the defensive snaps.
Madubuike is extremely agile for a player listed at 6-foot-3, 293 pounds, and his strength is obvious when he plays off blocks and forces his way into the backfield. Campbell, Wolfe, and Williams are all over 30 years old and the Ravens did not draft a defensive lineman. Madubuike could be in line for far more playing time in 2021, and if that's the case, he clearly looks ready to handle it.
"I think he's a guy who we can really depend on," Campbell said. "He's going to make all of our jobs a lot easier [with] what he can do inside, and he's developing as a pass rusher too, so I think he's going to put a lot more pressure on quarterbacks. I think he's going to be a really good player in this league."