The leap to the NFL for a small-school prospect such as Matthew Judon, who the Ravens drafted in the fifth round out of Grand Valley State, is supposed to be steep, right?
Yet in Judon's first two preseason games, he has posted a sack in each. That doesn't count a sack that thwarted a Colts' two-point conversion (stats aren't kept on two-point attempts), which ended up being big considering the Ravens won by just one point, 19-18.
It's been a quick start for Judon, and it may earn him a deeper look from the coaching staff.
"He's a gamer, I guess. He's playing pretty good in practice, but he's playing really well in games," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "What I'd like to do next week is put him in there against the starting offensive tackles and see how he does because he made some big plays for us the last two games."
Judon planted Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien for a 10-yard loss in the third quarter. The outside linebacker got a quick step around the Colts' right tackle, then ripped his way through his outside shoulder before getting a clean shot on Tolzien.
Perhaps the bigger play was the stop on the two-point conversion to prevent the Colts from tying the game. That time, Judon bounced through traffic and came up the middle to take down Tolzien.
When told of Harbaugh's "gamer" comment, Judon laughed and said, "that means I have to pick it up in practice."
"I love this game," he said. "I'm so thankful for [General Manager] Ozzie [Newsome] and Coach Harbaugh for giving me the opportunity, so I'm not going to waste them when they give me reps."
Judon is an example of the improved depth the Ravens have at outside linebacker this season, which Baltimore has gotten a look at all summer with Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Elvis Dumervil (foot) sidelined. Suggs is back, but he may not play in the preseason.
Za'Darius Smith got off to a good start in the first preseason game with a sack/strip, but he continues to jump offsides too often. Harbaugh has harped on Smith for making that mistake before, and he was annoyed with all the penalties after Saturday's game.
Smith will continue to get a lot of action, but Judon's emergence has thrown him into the mix as a possible situational pass rusher as well on gamedays.
"Eventually, I want to be a starter in this league," Judon said. "I have to show what I can do against the ones for them to be comfortable to put me out there. If it's more first-team reps, I've got to get out there and do what I do in the game."
Judon led all of college football with 20 sacks as a senior last year. The big question was whether that was a byproduct of lesser* *competition around him, and the Ravens will continue to test that by piling more challenges on his plate.
Judon said he's "not surprised at all" with his quick start.
"I know what I can do," he said. "I was a small-school guy because they weren't giving out scholarships the year I was coming out. I'm just going to continue doing what I do."