There isn't a bad time for the Ravens to find a good pass rusher in this year's draft.
If it happens in the first round, or on Day 3, adding someone who can harass the quarterback on a regular basis is on the Ravens' to-do list as they continue to evaluate prospects at the NFL Combine. The status of the team's best pass rusher, outside linebacker Matthew Judon is uncertain as he approaches free agency, and even if the Ravens retain Judon via the franchise tag or a long-term deal, they are consistently looking for pass rushers to add.
Defensive linemen and linebackers will be doing on-field workouts Saturday in Indianapolis, and Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta expects to see a host of players he likes.
"The challenge for us will be to find the right guys at the right spot in the draft," DeCosta said. "We think it's a good year. We're always looking at these defensive ends, undersized defensive ends in college, 4-3 defensive ends that we can convert to outside linebacker. We see those type of guys. But we're also looking at some guys that we can play five technique that can rush the passer as well. We're also looking at the three technique, the disruptive guys who can rush as a defensive tackle. We're trying to find guys that can get after the quarterback."
The Ravens have found pass rushers at various points in the draft during their history. Baltimore's all-time sack leader, Terrell Suggs, was the 10th overall pick in 2003 and it was no surprise when he became one of the game's premier pass rushers. However, the Ravens have also struck gold in later rounds, landing Za'Darius Smith in the fourth round (2015), Judon in the fifth round (2016), and Pernell McPhee in the fifth round (2011).
"They've had a great track record of finding pass rushers late in the draft," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said.
The Ravens may not wait that long this year, especially if Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos is still on the board when Baltimore picks at No. 28. Gross-Metos measured 6-foot-5, 266 pounds with an 82-inch wingspan at the combine, and an impressive combine workout would help solidify his status as a potential first-round pick.
Baltimore was encouraged by the rookie season of outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, who finished with 2 ½ sacks and 31 tackles last season. Adding Gross-Metos to a pass rushing mix with Judon, Ferguson and Tyus Bowser (five sacks) would give Baltimore a start on improving a pass rush that produced 37 sacks last season, to rank 21st among the NFL's 32 teams.
"If you look at great defenses they historically do three things - they can rush the passer, can cover and can stop the run," DeCosta said. "We really do believe all three of those things are really important. We're trying to build a defense that can do all three. It's tough with the confines of a salary cap and trying to keep as many good players as you can on offense. It is a little bit of a puzzle, but we'll continue to try and do that."
If the Ravens were to lose Judon, finding a pass rusher would become an even higher priority. But even if Baltimore waits past Day 1 to find one, there should be edge rushers remaining on the board with potential such as Bradlee Anae of Utah, Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson of Auburn, Akeem Davis-Gaither of Appalachian State, Terrell Lewis of Alabama, James Lynch of Baylor, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem of Notre Dame, Curtis Weaver of Boise State, Kenny Willekes of Michigan State and D.J. Wonnum of South Carolina.
As always, the Ravens will monitor the draft closely once it begins, as pass rushers they like begin to come off the board. The Ravens were explosive offensively last season, and a potent offense coupled with a defense that can rush opposing quarterbacks more effectively could be a formidable combination.
"If our offense continues to play at the level they played at this past year, we will probably be ahead in some games, and we're going to want to have a strong pass rush," DeCosta said.