The Ravens had 34 sacks last season, their lowest total since 2016 when they had 31.
While sacks don't tell the whole story of a pass rush, there's no doubt edge rushers are on Baltimore's radar in the 2022 NFL Draft. Tyus Bowser, who led the Ravens with seven sacks last season, is rehabbing from a torn Achilles suffered in the season finale, while veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston (4.5 sacks) is a free agent.
One potential pass-rushing target for the Ravens at No. 14 would be David Ojabo, who played for new Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald at Michigan and went to high school with Baltimore outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. However, two potential dark horse pass rushers lurking in the Ravens' range are George Karlaftis of Purdue and Jermaine Johnson II of Florida State.
Johnson and Karlaftis are projected as first-round picks and in his latest mock draft, ESPN’s Todd McShay had Johnson going to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12, just two spots before the Ravens pick. McShay was impressed with Johnson's workout at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash and had a 10-foot-5 broad jump.
Johnson brought confidence to the Combine along with his athletic ability.
"I think I'm the best edge rusher in this draft," Johnson said. "Because I do everything exceptionally well. I play the run as well as I play the pass. Nobody in this class does that like I do."
Johnson played his first two college seasons at Georgia, part of a monster front seven that had four other players expected to be first-round picks – defensive linemen Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis and inside linebacker Nakobe Dean. However, Johnson wasn't getting the playing time he wanted at Georgia so he transferred to Florida State to finish his college career. Johnson knew that decision would raise some eyebrows, but that didn't deter him.
"I kind of got the stigma I left the SEC, going to the ACC, weaker competition," Johnson said. "So I knew what I had to prove."
Johnson blew up during his one season at Florida State with 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss, a disruptive defender who routinely defeated double teams. The Seminoles moved him around the defense, allowing Johnson to make plays as both a standup outside linebacker and a defensive lineman with his hand in the dirt.
Adding Johnson would give Macdonald a chess piece to move around the defense, something he did as Michigan's defensive coordinator with versatile players. Johnson was asked at the Combine if he was better at defensive end or outside linebacker.
"I'm a pass rusher," Johnson said. "I've played 3-4, I've played 4-3. As long as I line up outside the tackle I'm a headache for a defense."
Karlaftis had just 4.5 sacks with Purdue last season, but he was often double and triple-teamed, making that stat somewhat misleading. Oweh was criticized for not having a sack during his final season at Penn State, but that didn't stop the Ravens from taking him in the first round and they don't regret that decision. It was obvious from the tape that Oweh's skillset translated to the NFL, and Karlaftis is also eager to show his ability.
"I had two or three blockers on me at all times, which freed up our other guys," Karlaftis said. "I think that's more significant. I think to a certain extent sacks are overrated. I know people like sacks and all that. I think the way you affect the quarterback, pressure the quarterback and affect the game is more significant."
Karlaftis didn't run the 40-yard dash at the Combine, saving that for his Pro Day. His 21 reps in the bench press ranked in the middle of the pack at Indianapolis, but Karlaftis said before his workout that anyone who put more weight on his Combine performance than his game tape was making a mistake.
"Watch the tape," Karlaftis said. "I don't know what the official numbers are. I don't give a crap about the official numbers and that kind of stuff."
In his latest post-Combine mock draft, Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports has Karlaftis going No. 12 to the Vikings.
"What you have to love about Karlaftis is the motor never stops," Fornelli wrote. "He's going all-out on every snap, and he's strong enough and quick enough to make a lot of blockers look foolish. That said, he's not as fluid as you'd like when changing direction, and he does struggle when he isn't able to overpower his blocker with his strength or speed off the snap. There's plenty of potential for an above-average pass rusher here, and those are always valuable."
If they're still on the board at No. 14, would the Ravens take Karlaftis or Johnson even if there's an offensive lineman or cornerback that they like still available? At some point this offseason, Baltimore seems likely to add at least one pass rusher, and Karlaftis said the team that picks him will get immediate dividends.
"Relentless," Karlaftis said. "That's how I approach life, how I approach the game, in terms of my technique, in terms of how I play, my motor, my effort. Everything about it is relentless."