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Is Michael Pierce ready to step into a starting role if Brandon Williams signs elsewhere?

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens top offseason priority is Brandon Williams. Williams is the best run defending defensive tackle in the NFL, and is arguably the best overall defensive tackle in the league. But with that high ranking comes a high price tag. With Williams set to hit free agency this offseason, he will receive a well deserved pay day. But it probably won't be from the Ravens who are strained against the salary cap.

If Williams is set to walk away from Baltimore, then the Ravens will need someone to replace him, and the clear choice is Michael Pierce.

Pierce came onto the Ravens roster in the preseason as an undrafted rookie. After a sensational performance against the New Orleans Saints in the final hame of the preseason, Pierce found his way onto the 53 man roster.

In his rookie season, Pierce didn't see much playing time, as he was playing behind Williams. Pierce was able to finish the year with two sacks and 35 tackles (four stuffs) despite the limited snaps. On the primetime stage of Thursday Night Football against the Browns, Pierce had a pass defended on the goal line.

Noting his “dominant season as a run defender,” Bleacher Report ranked Pierce as the top rookie defensive tackle in the league for the week four times from Week 9 through Week 15 (Pierce won the award in Week 9, 10, 11 and 15).

His strong performance in a limited role garned much attention for the undrafted rookie out of Samford. Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy gave Pierce a B grade for his rookie season (check out Levy’s other rookie grades here).

Pierce’s biggest competition on the current roster is Willie Henry. Henry was drafted in the fourth round out of Michigan, but did not play much in his rookie season due to injuries. However, even when Henry was healthy in training camp, Pierce largely outperformed the more highly touted Michigan product.

If the Ravens don’t have confidence in Pierce, then the selection of Malik McDowell in the 2017 NFL Draft will not come as much of a surprise.

But the Ravens should have confidence in Pierce, as he showed flashes of dominance in his rookie season. Assuming Williams signs away from Baltimore, Pierce will come into training camp as the most highly touted player at defensive tackle on the roster, and likely will win the job.

The biggest question that will have to be answered is whether or not Pierce can handle the increased workload. Pierce plays in the most physical division in the NFL. Can his body withstand the weekly beating it must take? If so, then Pierce has a chance to follow in Brandon Williams mold, a small school player who becomes one of the best defensive tackles in the league. However if he can't, Willie Henry will likely be given a chance to win the job for himself.

Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams were two of the best defensive tackles ever to put on a Ravens uniform. Can Michael Pierce be the next in line?

Yet again, general manager Ozzie Newsome has filled the Ravens roster with talented young players. In Ozzie we trust.