A big part of the mission entering last year’s offseason, starting at the top with Owner Steve Bisciotti, was to upgrade the pass rush.
The Ravens invested three draft picks – second-round linebacker Kamalei Correa, third-round defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and fifth-round linebacker Matthew Judon – to do just that.
But Baltimore isn’t done, partly because some of the young pass rushers have shown potential but haven’t yet emerged enough to be relied upon as future full-time starters.
Asked whether the Ravens have long-term replacements for aging veterans Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil already on the roster, Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said, “That’s an unknown.”
“I think we have some guys that have made positive strides. We’re very excited about Matt Judon, we’re excited about Za’Darius Smith, we think Correa is going to be a guy, Kaufusi is coming off the injury. We see pieces to the puzzle,” DeCosta said at the Senior Bowl.
“But what we’ve learned is, with pass rushers, you can never have enough. If we have the chance to get a thoroughbred pass rusher, a guy who can bend the edge and sack the quarterback repeatedly, we’d have to consider that very strongly.”
The two players the Ravens have seen the most from so far are Smith and Judon.
Smith looked like a possible breakout candidate after notching 5.5 sacks as a rookie. He’s big (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) and powerful. But Smith dropped to just one sack last season, although he was very close to notching several more.
After leading college football in sacks (21) in his final year at Grand Valley State, Judon notched 27 tackles and four sacks in his rookie year in the NFL. He had six quarterback hits and 10 hurries, per Pro Football Focus.
“He was very productive in terms of his percentage of playmaking for playing time,” Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said. “We definitely want him to make strides this year, and hopefully he grows into that next really good pass rusher for us.”
Essentially, the Ravens need Smith to rebound back into form and Judon to continue on his upward trajectory. Correa and Kaufusi, on the other hand, need to take off.
The Boise State product only played in nine games as a rookie, mostly on special teams. He notched four tackles, knocked down one pass and forced one fumble.
The learning curve was steep for Correa as he came to Baltimore and was learning multiple positions. He was mostly an edge defender in college, but was moved to inside linebacker with the Ravens. With the early retirement of Zachary Orr, Correa will get his shot for more defensive playing time. He could turn into a versatile pass rusher for the Ravens, if not more.
The gargantuan Kaufusi (6-foot-6, 285 pounds) missed his entire rookie year after breaking his ankle early in training camp.
All four young players have question marks, which begs the question of whether the Ravens are in good long-term position.
The Ravens will likely have pass-rusher options available at No. 16 overall, as well as in later rounds. There’s a host of first-round possibilities, including Alabama’s Tim Williams, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, Missouri’s Charles Harris, Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, Michigan’s Taco Charlton and UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley.
McKinley was supposed to play at the Senior Bowl, but missed it due to a torn labrum. Williams, who is also a senior, didn’t participate.
That left Alabama’s Ryan Anderson and Temple’s Haason Reddick – two second-round projections – as the week’s most impressive edge defenders. Anderson is a bigger, power defender while Reddick wins with speed.
“Whatever mold they are, however they do it, you want guys that can pressure the quarterback from multiple spots,” Hortiz said.
“[Reddick has] shown up here this week. He’s working at linebacker and played defensive end in college. He’s a hard charger in college, and he’s played with a really high motor here. He’s looked comfortable on two feet. … He’s flying around, he’s buzzing to the ball.”