Training camp is quickly approaching for the Baltimore Ravens, and with that in mind, Baltimore Beatdown has decided to take a look at some of the positional battles that will be taking place throughout it.
In taking a look at how the linebacker battle could potentially shake out, a few new faces among the group will certainly make things interesting.
The list of linebackers that have a legitimate shot to make the team is as follows:
- Terrell Suggs
- Elvis Dumervil
- Za’Darius Smith
- Matt Judon
- Kamalei Correa
- C.J. Mosley
- Arthur Brown
- Zachary Orr
- Albert McClellan
The most interesting part about the Ravens linebacking corps right now is how it seems to be trending towards a youth movement. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are the team’s two best pass rushers, but are currently on the PUP list, and are getting up there in age. That’s where some of these aforementioned new faces will potentially come in.
The most highly touted of that bunch is rookie second round pick Kamalei Correa. A freak athlete out of Boise State, Correa was picked in the second round of the draft to presumably play an understudy/third outside linebacker role this coming season, but is that really the case?
After he was picked, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller stated that everyone he talked to in the NFL saw Correa as an inside linebacker. Following the draft, early reports out of Ravens OTAs were that head coach John Harbaugh moved Correa around a bit, giving him significant snaps on the inside. An article from ESPN’s Jamison Hensley provides a quote from Harbaugh that gives some insight on his positional tinkering.
"I think 'K.C.' has inside linebacker traits," coach John Harbaugh said. "He played it in college quite a bit. They moved him around at Boise [State]. The more he can do, the better. And we're definitely going to look at him."
Just from an athletic standpoint, this is a very intriguing idea. Mosley is the incumbent starter at the position, but nobody would confuse him with Luke Kuechly when it comes to defending the pass. If Correa were to start alongside Mosley on the inside, that would give defensive coordinator Dean Pees a player with the speed to move with tight ends, and tackle sideline to sideline. If his coverage skills are even near up to the par with the criminally underrated Daryl Smith, who was released by the Ravens this offseason, then the Ravens will have made the right decision in moving him to inside linebacker.
Two other players to keep an eye on at inside linebacker are Arthur Brown and Zachary Orr. Orr has surpassed expectations and will likely make the team as a role player and even potential starter depending on what happens with Correa.
As for Brown, this is a make-or-break year for the former second-round pick, who is entering a contract season. Once looked at as a promising prospect coming out of the NFL draft in 2013, Brown has since slid out of sight and out of mind for most Ravens fans, who now consider him to be one of the most disappointing players ever drafted by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
As far as outside linebackers go, the question is when will Dumervil and Suggs be ready to go, and if they aren't, who will step up for the team in their absence? Correa has already been talked about at length, but he’s certainly an option there.
Outside of Correa, the most obvious answer is sophomore Za’Darius Smith. Smith didn't jump off of the screen in 2015, but his rookie campaign was quietly impressive. The 5.5 sacks that he had were compiled across only three games, but those are still impressive numbers for a young player. By comparison, that’s 1.5 more than Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree who were both drafted in the first round of last year.
Another option they could turn to if necessary is rookie Matt Judon, who was drafted out of Grand Valley State in the fifth round this year. He had a ridiculously productive college career albeit at a lower competition level. Judon is incredibly raw at this point, and while the Ravens obviously hope that he’ll turn into a productive player down the road, the Ravens ought to hope that the team won't have to rely on him too much in 2016.
Overall, the Ravens linebacking unit has a “boom or bust” feel to it heading into 2016. If some of the young players who were discussed are able to produce at a respectable level, they could be looked at as one of the deeper squads in the NFL. If not, the team will once again have to rely upon the aging duo of Suggs and Dumervil, who both at this point could certainly benefit with more depth behind them.