Roquan Smith Is on Pace for Defensive Player of the Year Consideration
When Lamar Jackson was asked yesterday about the impact inside linebacker Roquan Smith has made for the Ravens both on the field and in the locker room, the quarterback said, “He’s like a Ray Lewis for us.”
Obviously, being mentioned in the same sentence with the Pro Football Hall of Famer and Ravens great is the highest of praise, but Smith's effect on the Ravens defense since joining the team in a midseason trade last year is undeniable.
Since Smith's arrival in Baltimore, the Ravens have been one of the stingiest defenses in the league. Smith has been playing at such a high level this season that Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuinness believes he will get consideration for Defensive Player of the Year, an award Lewis won twice.
"The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award usually goes to players with gaudy sack or interception totals. Luke Kuechly was the most recent off-ball linebacker to win the honor (2013), and that is unlikely to change this season as long as there is a defensive lineman who registers enough sacks or a defensive back who pulls in enough interceptions," McGuinness wrote. "If that isn't the case, however, then Roquan Smith looks to be on pace for a special season where he could be considered for the award.
"He's on pace to make 63 tackles resulting in a defensive stop and record eight sacks, and he currently has the second-highest PFF coverage grade among linebackers. Given how good the Ravens' defense has been through four weeks, coupled with his strong play, it's not a great leap to project him to earn some Defensive Player of the Year votes."
Speaking of Kuechly, that's who tight end Mark Andrews compared Smith to yesterday.
"The way he sees the game – he's very smart, he studies a lot of film," Andrews said. "He looks at a formation, and he knows exactly what's coming. You talk about a Luke Kuechly-type of deal – guys that are super vocal, able to lead."
The Ravens defense, which is ranked third in the league in yards allowed and points allowed, has gotten strong performances from several players this season, but Smith has been the unit's MVP through Week 4, Baltimore Beatdown’s Dustin Cox wrote.
"Smith's impact is felt far beyond just his own individual performance on the field every week," Cox wrote. "Trading for Smith late last season is looking like one of the best trades in franchise history already. Smith sets the tone and brings an edge week in and week out that has been missing on defense for the Ravens for a while now. It is hard to quantify just how valuable his leadership traits are for this team."
Tyus Bowser Hopes to Return to Practice 'Sometime This Week'
There was good news on the injury front for the Ravens yesterday, as cornerback Marlon Humphrey and wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman returned to practice. One player who is not back yet is outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, but his return from the non-football injury list could be imminent.
Bowser (knee), who was working out on a side field yesterday not in uniform, said on “The Tyus Bowser Show” that he is close to getting back on the practice field with his teammates.
"I can definitely say I've been on the field, moving and I'm feeling a lot more confident in myself," Bowser said. "Hopefully, sometime this week I can get around with the rest of the team, so we'll see how that goes."
Bowser, a versatile pass rusher who's also adept in pass coverage, would add depth to an outside linebacker group that is without Odafe Oweh (ankle) and David Ojabo (ankle/knee). Oweh could be back soon, but Ojabo might be out for the rest of the season.
Bowser, who is in his seventh season with the Ravens, had a team-high seven sacks in 2021. He played nine games in 2022 after returning from an Achilles injury suffered in the 2021 season finale.
Zay Flowers Is a Weapon Even Without the Ball
Wide receiver Zay Flowers leads the Ravens in targets (29), receptions (24), and receiving yards (244), but the speedy rookie has impacted the offense even when he doesn't have the ball in his hands.
Former NFL defensive end Chris Long on his “Green Light” podcast pointed to Jackson's 10-yard touchdown run against the Browns last week as an example of how Flowers' presence can affect a play.
A fake handoff to Flowers on a jet sweep drew the defense's attention away from Jackson, who ran untouched into the end zone.
"The entire second level of defense is shifting with Zay Flowers. They're doing great things to manipulate leverage," Long said.
Former NFL guard Kyle Long, Chris' brother and the show's co-host, likened the Ravens' use of Flowers in motion to how the Miami Dolphins use All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
"Zay Flowers and Tyreek, the two baddest kids in the league," Kyle Long said. "If it gets quiet when you're babysitting them it's like, 'Where is he?'"
On a side note, Flowers was named to The Athletic's All-Rookie Team at (approximately) the quarter mark of the season.
"Flowers is second among rookies in receptions (24) and has been electric with the ball in his hands. He's also yet to register a drop," The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote.
Three Players Who Could Be in Line for Contract Extensions
Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed identified which Ravens are deserving of contract extensions. Here are three players who made the list:
ILB Patrick Queen
"The fourth-year pro is on pace to shatter the career highs he set across the board in almost every major statistical category with 36 total tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, and three quarterback hits through four games. More important than the gaudy stats themselves have been the type of game-changing and drive-killing plays that they are resulting in for the Ravens dominant defense.
"Now he is poised to receive a significant pay day whether it's by the Ravens or another team if he reaches the open market. While paying a pair of off-ball linebackers is as anti-modern NFL canon as a team can get, keeping Smith and Queen together is worth an exception if there ever was one."
OLB Jadeveon Clowney
"The three-time Pro Bowler has far exceeded expectations with how relentlessly disruptive he has been to start the season. While he doesn't lead the team in sacks with just 1.5, Clowney has been harassing opposing quarterbacks nonstop nonetheless and is a big reason why the Ravens' pass rush is thriving despite not having projected starters and breakout candidates Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo in the lineup for most of the past two games.
"Most teams want to pay top for players who rack up sacks but often aren't nearly as constantly destructive as Clowney. The Ravens value both sacks and pressures. If his price isn't as high because he wasn't able to come close to double-digit sacks, running it back for at least a second year in a row would make sense for both parties."
DB Geno Stone
"Stone has started the last three games in the place of injured free safety Marcus Williams and has provided every bit of the same playmaking ball hawk element to the back end of the defense with a pair of pass deflections and interceptions during that span.
"Even when Williams returns to the lineup there will still be a prominent role for Stone in the Ravens defense. [Defensive Coordinator Mike] Macdonald loves deploying three-safety sets to disguise pressures and coverages. Stone and Williams can keep a lid on the back end to make sure nothing can go over the top of their coverage, freeing Kyle Hamilton up to play more of the hybrid slot defender role."
ESPN Analytics Writer Predicts Pro Bowl Honor for Tyler Linderbaum
ESPN Analytics' Seth Walder revisited the bold predictions he made for each team before the start of the season and chose whether to stick with it or make a new prediction.
For the Ravens, his original prediction was that left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be a first-team All-Pro. His new prediction is that Tyler Linderbaum will lead all centers in pass block win rate and be named to the Pro Bowl.
"Stanley has been able to play only one game because of a knee injury, so we're going to go with another lineman for this honor," Walder wrote. "Linderbaum's pass protection has stood out because it comes at a time when Baltimore's protection is worse than it has been in years, in part because of Stanley's absence."