Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees is the happiest man in Baltimore this weekend. Following the re-signing of nose tackle Brandon Williams, and the acquisitions of Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr in free agency; the Ravens spent all four of their early picks in the 2017 NFL draft on impact defenders. The result is an impressive collection of defensive playmakers with championship caliber depth and the versatility to dominate against any offensive scheme.
On paper, the Ravens defense is exceptionally strong up the middle. Brandon Williams is one of the very best run stuffers in the NFL. C.J. Mosley is a two-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker. Second-year man Kamalei Correa will compete for a job next to Mosley at inside linebacker, he has good instincts in pass coverage and blitzing ability. The safety duo of Jefferson and the savvy Eric Weddle is one of the top pairings in the league.
Third round rookie Chris Wormley is a plug-and-play five technique. He will battle for playing time with a bunch of promising young defensive lineman - Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi. This assortment of run pluggers and interior penetrators will provide Pees with a strong rotation of big bodies to employ in the trenches.
Entering his fifteenth season, Terrell Suggs is still the Ravens pied piper and team leader. He will be tasked with assisting in the development of edge rushers Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith. Each of these young outside linebackers possess the ability to bend the edge and double-digit sack potential.
The cornerback position is the biggest cause for optimism. Pees has often been criticized for playing soft coverages. In Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young and first rounder Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens now have four athletic corners who excel at bump-and-run coverage. The days of starting journeymen such as Rashaan Melvin and Shareece Wright are long gone. And when the inevitable injury arises, the Ravens should be able to slide in a backup corner without much drop-off.
In combination, the pieces added give Baltimore the opportunity to field the best defense in the league next season. Cincinnati wants to test the corners deep? No problem, the Ravens have plenty of speed in the secondary. Pittsburgh decides to spreads them out? No worries, the edge rushers will get to Big Ben before the coverage breaks down. Oakland tries a power rushing attack? The Ravens have plenty of lineman to eat blocks and the linebackers to roam sideline to sideline. Tennessee utilizes two tight ends? Weddle, Jefferson and Mosley should lock down the middle of the field.
Perhaps most exciting is the potential for another defensive dynasty in Baltimore. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Williams and Tony Jefferson have all signed long term contracts. Judon, Pierce and Correa will be wearing purple through at least 2018. It seems highly unlikely the Ravens will allow C.J. Mosley to flee in 2019. And each of the recent draft picks will come to terms on cost controlled four-year contracts before training camp. This is a core of talented defenders that can grow together for years to come.
Sure, it would have been nice to land another offensive weapon and right tackle in the draft to help Joe Flacco. But the Ravens found their stalwart left tackle in Ronnie Stanley last year, and the Ravens first two picks in 2015 - receiver Breshad Perriman and vertical tight end Maxx Williams - have untapped difference making potential. Furthermore, there are a couple quality veterans still available on the market that could solidify the Ravens offense, namely Anquan Boldin and Nick Mangold.
After several seasons of fielding teams with exploitable vulnerabilities on defense, the draft board finally fell in a way that enabled the Ravens to stock their pass defense. Dean Pees now has a well rounded, complete, deep defensive depth chart with versatile chess pieces, elite physical talent and top-notch veteran leadership. The only limit on the Ravens defense is Pees imagination, he has the personnel at his disposal to be mighty creative with his play calling.
Despite the narrative, defense still wins championships in the NFL. After their superb 2017 draft haul, the Ravens are truly back as legitimate contenders in the AFC, and well on their way to their third Lombardi trophy.