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Who will start opposite Terrell Suggs in 2017?

The Ravens have many options at the position between Tyus Bowser, Matt Judon, Tim Williams and Albert McClellan

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest reasons for the Ravens collapse late in the season has to do with a pass rush that completely stalled out. The group had looked really solid to start the year, but were barely able to create pressure, in no game more notably than the Christmas Day loss to the Steelers, as the season wore on. Earlier this offseason, the Ravens released Elvis Dumervil, a key cog for the Ravens over the past few seasons, and he would go on to sign with the San Francisco 49ers.

His departure leaves an open spot across the defensive line from superstar edge rusher Terrell Suggs. However, the Ravens have been able to amass a stable of promising young pass rushers set to be the future of this defense.

But which one of the young guns will contribute in the present instead of the future? In my eyes, it’s the second year man out of Grand Valley State: Matt Judon.

Judon is coming off of an extremely impressive rookie season. Despite, not starting a single game, missing two games, and only averaging 22 snaps per game in the games that he did play, Judon was still able to accumulate four sacks. That total was the third most on the team behind Suggs’ eight and Timmy Jernigan’s five. Add that to the three sacks Judon had in the preseason, and all together, 2016 was a really solid campaign for Matt Judon.

In addition to the sack numbers, Judon came up big in some big spots. Think back to Judon’s two knocked down passes on the Bengals final drive against the Ravens in Week 12 of the 2016 season.

Judon’s production in his rookie season is what may ultimately win him the job for Week 1 of the 2017 season. But he will have some stiff competition.

Albert McClellan has much more experience than any of the Ravens options at outside linebacker across from Suggs on the roster. In fact, McClellan started eleven games last year. However, I think Judon will prove to have a higher ceiling in camp than McClellan does, and it is Judon, not the aging McClellan, who can infuse life into the pass rush.

Za’Darius Smith regressed in 2016, and until he can prove that he has regained the form he was in during his rookie season, the former Kentucky Wildcat is out of this discussion.

Next, we turn to the two newest pass rushers, rookies Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams.

In my film study of Tim Williams, I wrote that the former Alabama pass rusher wasn’t ready to be a three down linebacker just yet. In fact, it is very possible that Williams could serve a similar role to what Judon did in 2016, a pass rushing specialist.

That brings me to Tyus Bowser, who I see as the biggest competition to Judon. As opposed to Williams, in my film study of Bowser I saw the Houston product as a player who did have the potential to be an every down linebacker because of his ability to rush the passer as well as cover. Judon is nowhere near as good in coverage as Bowser is.

However, because Judon has a year under his belt in the Ravens scheme, I will still give the nod to Judon, at least for now. It’s very possible that once Bowser becomes more acclimated with the Ravens defense that he takes over as the starter, because he brings more all-around ability than Judon does.

In Week 1 of the 2017 season, I expect Matt Judon to be the Ravens starting outside linebacker across from Terrell Suggs due to his experience and production from the 2016 season. Judon has the potential to jumpstart what was a stagnant Ravens pass rush. However, unless Judon becomes better in other facets of the game (i.e. coverage), his spot as a starter could be vulnerable to Bowser, an all-around linebacker with a very high ceiling.

All in all, whomever of the Ravens choose between Bowser and Judon, the Ravens two most promising young pass rushers, the unit has a chance to be much improved from last season. An infusion of youth is just what the Ravens defense needs, and at long last, it has finally arrived.