This week is a big week for the Baltimore Ravens. It’s a time for celebration for members of the flock nationwide. The Ravens begin the preseason this Thursday against the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame game. The Ravens were selected to play in the first game of the preseason because Ray Lewis is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend. The Ravens legend is getting his reward for his long and outstanding career as a linebacker in the NFL. Fittingly, this week’s article examining the Ravens defense deals with the linebackers group. The group consists of some very good players, along with some mediocre players. With the group progressing from last year, the question is, what is the ceiling for the Ravens linebackers group?
It is not an easy question to answer, especially this far out from the regular season, but there are some indications on to what the linebackers corps will be like this season. We first must break down the linebackers group into two segments to see these distinctions. The two segments are inside and outside linebackers. The inside linebackers are mainly guarding against passes over the middle while keeping an eye out for running plays. The outside linebackers primarily attempt to sack the quarterback, while also being aware of running plays. We will first start with the examination of the inside linebackers.
The inside linebackers group is led by the three-time Pro Bowler, C.J. Mosley. Mosley, now entering the last year of his rookie deal, is in talks with the team for another long-term deal. The hope is that Mosley and the front office can reach a deal before the start of the regular season. If that does not happen, Mosley may be motivated to play better than usual to induce a new contract. However, that may be near impossible, as Mosley’s play is already at an extremely high level. Regardless of the contract situation, Mosley is going to play well and may return to the Pro Bowl again. Last year, Mosley finished 8th in the league in total tackles, as he recorded 132 combined tackles, along with one sack, and two interceptions.
While Mosley gives the Ravens stability in the middle of the field, his counterpart remains a variable. Last year, Patrick Onwuasor started alongside Mosley. While not perfect, Onwuasor played fairly well. He recorded 90 combined tackles and one sack last year. It remains unsure whether he or the rookie Kenny Young will take over the starting role. Young, the rookie out of UCLA, was drafted in the fourth round by the Ravens, and Baltimore has high expectations for him. In his final year with the Bruins, Young recorded 110 total tackles, along with 8.5 tackles for loss, and one sack. The Ravens are likely to give both players extensive time this preseason to determine the starter, but it would be unsurprising if the team chooses to play both during the regular season.
The Ravens also have other options at inside linebacker, and will likely choose to keep four inside linebackers on the roster. This leaves room for one more linebacker such as Bam Bradley, Albert McClellan, Chris Board, or Alvin Jones. The two favorites in this competition are McClellan and Bradley. Bradley made the roster last year as an undrafted free agent, while McClellan is a veteran and gives a veteran presence for the Ravens.
At the outside linebacker position, two players stand out more than others. The first is Terrell Suggs, the longtime Raven, and future Hall of Famer. Suggs has been with the Ravens since 2003 and has received many awards and honors, including seven Pro Bowl selections, two All-Pro selections, and Defensive Rookie and Player of the Year awards. Suggs is the anchor of the defensive pass rush and will continue to be the centerpiece this year. On the opposite side of Suggs sits Matthew Judon who has quickly risen to prominence. His rapid ascension leads the Ravens to be optimistic about the pass rush this year coming from the edge. Both of these players will be the starters this season, as they are basically unchallenged for their roles.
Along with the two starters on the outside, the Ravens have depth at the edge rusher position. The depth is made up of second-year players Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, along with Za’Darius Smith and Kamalei Correa, all relatively young. While Correa has disappointed thus far in his career, the Ravens are optimistic a move to outside linebacker can give him a purpose on the team. The Ravens also see Bowser, Williams, and Smith all candidates for development and progression into premier pass rushers.
The Ravens linebacker group, in both segments, is led by reliable players and veterans such as Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley, while these two both dominate in their respective groups, the young players behind them have great potential to become great. Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor are competing to start alongside Mosley, and Matthew Judon is expected to break out this year. Should one or both of these inside linebackers along with Judon on the outside develop into solid players this year, the ceiling for the Ravens linebacker group will be high. The group can easily fit within the top ten in the NFL. However, if the development stalls out or some players regress, the floor is low for the group, perhaps finishing in the bottom ten. Alone, Suggs and Mosley can do well, but not dominate alone. They need a supporting cast of linebackers to aid them in their quest for glory. Without a strong performance from the supporting cast, the Ravens linebackers will be doomed to mediocrity. But if the opposite is true, then the group will transform into one of the NFL’s most formidable.