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Ravens Breakout Candidate: OLB Matt Judon

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In most years, Baltimore Ravens second year outside linebacker Matt Judon would be receiving a lot of offseason attention. Judon’s encouraging play as a rookie prompted the Ravens to release veteran edge rusher Elvis Dumervil in March. But then, a fortuitous draft allowed the front office to add a pair of high upside pass rushers in Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, relegating Judon to an afterthought.

Judon was a fifth round pick in the 2016 NFL draft out of Division II Grand Valley State. His official stat line as a rookie was 27 tackles, four tackles for a loss, four sacks, ten quarterback hits, two passes deflected and one fumble recovery. Solid totals for a rookie who played only 308 defensive snaps, or less than 30-percent.

The scouting report on Judon coming out of college indicated he was a raw prospect who needed to refine his technique. He possesses a prototypical frame at 6’3” 275 pounds with long arms, and was extremely productive at the collegiate level. Matt is truly an athletic specimen who led the defensive lineman at the scouting combine with a 4.73 second 40-yard dash time, 30 bench press reps and a 35” vertical jump.

Coaches often claim players improve the most between their first and second seasons. This is especially true for small school products who have a full offseason to train in preparation for facing opponents with equal size and speed. Judon is still learning the nuances of two-gap edge setting after lining up primarily at defensive end in college.

With a full offseason of working on his technique under respected assistant coaches Joe Cullen and Don Martindale, Judon is poised for a breakout sophomore season. Head coach John Harbaugh agrees. “I am looking for a great player out of Matt. I think he is going to be a great player,” Harbaugh told Ravens staff writer Ryan Mink earlier this month.

Judon’s role in 2017 will be fleshed out in training camp. He will likely serve as the strong side outside linebacker opposite Terrell Suggs on early downs, and possibly slide down to the defensive line on passing downs. Lining up Judon in a three-point stance for the nickel formation would allow the Ravens to put their best pass rushers on the field at the same time.

As the Broncos 2016 championship team proved, a team can never have too many pass rushers. That Denver team won the Super Bowl on the strength of their potent quartet of edge rushers - Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett. The Ravens may not have an elite pass rusher such as Miller, but with Suggs, Judon, Bowser and Williams, they have the depth and talent to make a similar impact.

Matt Judon has all the ability necessary to provide Pernell McPhee caliber contributions for the Ravens in 2017. The exciting rookies may be receiving more buzz from the media. But it would be unwise to sleep on Judon.