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Statistically, the 2021 Ravens were a tale of two defenses. They were hard to run on, allowing the fewest rush yards in the league, the second-lowest yards per carry, and they were tied for the seventh-fewest rushing scores. The pass defense, on the other hand, was a disaster. Baltimore was dead last in passing yards and yards per attempt. With only the Packers and Colts giving up more points through the air. This unit was very un-Raven-like in the big play columns as well. The pass rush finished in the bottom third of the league with 34 sacks, while only the Jets and Jaguars forced fewer turnovers. Not surprisingly, the organization focused both considerable draft capital and a fair amount of free agent money on this side of the ball.
The Ravens run a two-gap 3-4, asking their front three to control the line of scrimmage by occupying space and blockers. The makeup of their roster suits this approach but is not going to benefit IDP managers. Even the great Calais Campbell has not been able to overcome the restrictions of a scheme in which the entire defensive line produced five and a half sacks in 2021.
For most of his 14 seasons as a pro, Campbell was a force on the field and an incredibly productive and consistent player for IDP managers. He averaged almost eight sacks per season between 2009 and 2020 and had not fallen short of 34 solo tackles in any campaign before signing with Baltimore. While Campbell is still getting it done on the field, he has not been the same in the box scores over the last two years. He will turn 36 in September, but his statistical drop-off is probably more scheme-related than a sign of declining play. In two seasons with the Ravens, Campbell has produced 43 tackles, 28 assists, and 5.5 sacks with a career-low of a sack and a half in 2021. His sack total should bounce back a little, but Campbell will never be a major fantasy contributor again. He will only be worthy of a roster spot in leagues with more than 12 teams and/or very deep rosters.
With Derek Wolfe battling injuries last year, 2020 third-round pick, Justin Madubuike, claimed the starting job at defensive end opposite Campbell. Madubuike proved to be a good fit and even managed to lead the defensive line in sacks, albeit with just two. With Wolfe gone, the job belongs to Madubuike for the foreseeable future, but his numbers are unlikely to improve significantly over the 32-12-2 he recorded in 2021.
With Brandon Williams no longer on the roster, the title of starter at nose tackle falls to free-agent addition Michael Pierce with rookie third-round pick Travis Jones likely to share time at the position. Both players fit the mold of hard-to-move big men that can impact a running game, but neither is going to have much statistical impact.
The Ravens are not a team that moves a lot of guys in and out of the lineup on game days. In 2021, five players accounted for all but 51 of the team’s defensive line snaps. Last year it was Broderick Washington working as the third defensive end. This summer, he will have to hold off veteran free-agent addition Brent Urban to keep that role.
- DE Calais Campbell – Possible depth if you can play him as a tackle
- DE Justin Madubuike – No Impact
- DE Brent Urban – No impact
- DE Broderick Washington – No impact
- NT Travis Jones – No impact
- NT Michael Pierce – No impact
There will never be another Ray Lewis, so when Baltimore drafted Patrick Queen in the first round in 2020, most of us envisioned him as the next C.J. Mosley. Queen pretty much looked the part as a rookie. His tackle totals were a little light at 68 solo and 40 assists, but he was a playmaker with three sacks, five takeaways, and a score. Because he was a rookie, no one read much into the fact that he only played about 81% of the snaps.
Expectations were high for Queen heading into his second season. Surely he would step up, play virtually full time, and build on his rookie numbers, right? Umm NO! Instead, we got the same solo tackle total with less of everything else, including playing time which slid to about a 76% share. So where does Queen go in year three? That is a tough call, made harder by the re-signing of journeyman Rent-A-Starter, Josh Bynes. Queen has a high ceiling for sure, but at this stage, we have to question if the team sees him as the centerpiece of their defense for the long term. We should have that answer by the end of this season, but that will not help us on draft day. Queen is a risk/reward target with a low LB1 ceiling but an LB4 floor. I have him slotted on my draft board as a mid-LB3 target.
Josh Bynes's career path has been a winding road, but it always seems to come back to Baltimore. He made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2012 then moved on to Detroit in 2014. Bynes landed his first starting job with the Lions in 2015. He signed with the Cardinals in 2017, starting several games for them over two seasons before going back to Baltimore in 2019, where he again started a few games. Bynes spent 2020 as a starter for Cincinnati as they groomed Logan Wilson before returning to Baltimore in Week 3 last year, where he once again found a way into the lineup.
Baltimore moved on from Chris Board after last season, and Malik Harrison played one snap after the team’s Week 8 bye, showing rather clearly what they think of him. So heading into training camp, it looks like Queen and Bynes are the starters on the inside, with third-year former undrafted free agent Kristian Welch as the top backup. If there is a silver lining to this situation, It’s that the lack of depth could spell a full-time role for Queen and/or Bynes
Baltimore has been without an elite edge defender since Terrell Suggs was in his prime. They have, however, been successful by using a collection of solid, mostly veteran, contributors in their edge rotation. Tyus Bowser led the team with seven sacks in 2021. The former second-round pick (2017) falls into a solid veteran contributor category. Having 17.5 sacks over five seasons suggests he was at or near his ceiling in his fifth year.
The Ravens started a youth movement at outside linebacker by picking Jayson Oweh in the first round in 2021. He did not exactly explode onto the scene, totaling 34 combined tackles, 5 sacks, and 5 takeaways as a rookie, but showed a lot of promise. It is common for even the best young edge defenders to show up a bit light on the stat sheet in their rookie season, so there is still a chance for Oweh to be special.
The youth movement continued this spring with the addition of second-round pick David Ojabo. After suffering a torn Achilles during Michigan’s pro day, Ojabo was more of a futures pick than someone the team expects to get a lot from this year. Even if he were fully healthy, Ojabo is raw with limited college experience. That said, his one year as a starter for the Wolverines was impressive as he produced eleven sacks and forced five fumbles. He has a long way to go as a run defender but if he can get back on the field at some point this season, Ojabo could contribute as a pass rush specialist.
The Ravens elected to keep Justin Houston around for another year as their third option on the outside. The four-and-a-half sacks he recorded last year equaled the lowest output of his stellar eleven-year career but were not all that bad considering the reduced role. At age 33, Houston still has enough gas in the tank to be a quality starter if called upon.
- ILB Patrick Queen – A wide range of outcomes are possible with Queen, anywhere from LB1 to LB4
- ILB Josh Bynes – Possible LB4 if the role supports it
- ILB Malik Harrison – No impact
- ILB Kristian Welch – Injury sleeper
- OLB Tyus Bowser – Marginal value at best
- OLB Odafe Oweh – Possible breakout player in big play formats
- OLB David Ojabo – Dynasty deep sleeper in big play formats
- OLB Justin Houston – injury sleeper with limited upside
Baltimore threw a lot of resources at their broken secondary this off-season. It started with the signing of former Saints free safety Marcus Williams and culminated in the draft with the selection of strong safety Kyle Hamilton in the first and a pair of corners in round four.
Hamilton is the player in this secondary that is drawing the most attention from IDP managers, and with good reason. All we have to look at is the writeup of NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein who compared Hamilton to former Seahawks great Kam Chancellor. When it comes to size, toughness, and demeanor, that is a great comparison. The difference is that Hamilton offers greater versatility. He is faster, better in coverage, and more of a ballhawk. Hamilton checks the box for college production as well. In 18 games for Norte Dame over the last two seasons, he went 70-27-0 with 4 picks and 10 pass breakups. There is simply nothing to not like about him as a player.
Now for the rest of the story. The selection of Hamilton by the Ravens was the most disappointing moment of this year’s draft for me. Had he landed anywhere else, his IDP status would be right up there with Devin Lloyd and Nakobe Dean, who have been the first two defenders off the board in 99% of rookie drafts. Simply put, Baltimore is where safeties go to do nothing. Dating all the way back to the days of the great Ed Reed, there has been no Ravens safety with more than marginal DB3 value, and even those have been few and far between. Reed was the last Baltimore safety to make the top 15 when he had 64 combined tackles and 9 interceptions in 2004. The only top-30 safety since that time was Chuck Clark, who was 54-40-1.5 with 5 turnovers, 4 passes defended, and a score in 2020. Is there a chance that Hamilton can break the curse? Absolutely, and I sincerely hope he does, but that much history is a hard trend to break. This is not to suggest that Hamilton is not draft worth by any stretch. Just be careful how much you invest as he is far from a lock to be a stud.
The addition of Marcus Williams is a considerable upgrade at free safety. He is an excellent safety net that does a great job of getting ball carriers on the ground in the open field, providing strong over-the-top coverage support, and is a ballhawk. Williams is not going to make a lot of tackles, especially in this defense, but he averaged almost four takeaways and eight passes defended over five seasons with New Orleans.
Until recently, Baltimore’s corner positions were no more productive than their safeties had been. When Marlon Humphrey went 53-11-0 with eight takeaways and 14 passes defended in 2019, we all assumed it was a fluke. When he came back in 2020 with 70 tackles, 12 assists, 2.5 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, an interception, and 10 pass breakups, we had to start paying attention. His splash play production was way down in 2021 but Humphrey was the 14th ranked corner, on pace for around 80 combined tackles and 18 passes defended when he went down in Week 13. Playing opposite one of the game's elite at the position in Marcus Peters, Humphrey will continue to have plenty of opportunities for tackles. The team’s renewed focus on takeaways will also be a plus.
Injuries were a major contributor to the Ravens’ struggles last year. Humphrey missed the last five games, but no loss made a bigger impact than when Peters tore his ACL before the season started. Peters is doing well in his rehab and is believed to be on track for at least the start of the regular season. He could get back on the field in some capacity early in training camp, but the team will surely be careful with their star. He does not make a lot of tackles, but Peters is arguably the game’s leading big play threat. Over six seasons, he has averaged almost seven turnovers, more than 14 pass breakups, and seven career returns for scores.
Both Humphry and Peters made the top ten at corner in 2020. That might be a tall order to fill in 2022, but I look for Humphry to be a solid CB1 and Peters a priority second starter, providing he is fully healthy.
Chuck Clark and Brandon Stephens were the team’s starting safeties for most of last year and will provide quality depth. We could see Clark earn a significant role if the coaching staff elects to use more big-nickel looks, which their situation at inside linebacker suggests might happen. At corner, veterans Kevon Seymour and Kyle Fuller will compete with rookies Jayln Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams for playing time in nickel and dime situations. Between getting their stars healthy, the infusion of young talent, and the presence of quality depth, Baltimore’s secondary should look much different in 2022.
- SS Kyle Hamilton – DB3 based on situation, DB1 based on talent
- FS Marcus Williams – Marginal impact
- SS Chuck Clark – Injury sleeper with DB3 ceiling
- FS Brandon Stephens – No impact
- SS Geno Stone – No impact
- CB Marlon Humphrey – Quality CB1 with top-five potential
- CB Marcus Peters – Solid CB2 with a bit of week-to-week inconsistency
- CB Kevon Seymour – No impact
- CB Kyle Fuller – No impact
- CB Jalyn Armour-Davis – Deep/injury sleeper, rookie corner rule could apply
- CB Damarion Williams - Deep/injury sleeper, rookie corner rule could apply
That’s a wrap for Part 21. Coming up next, the Cincinnati Bengals
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