An expected improvement in the defense’s pass rush is one of the main reasons for optimism about the 2017 Baltimore Ravens. The front office added three athletic rookies to a deep front-seven rotation this offseason. They also stocked the secondary by acquiring two proven veterans as well as a first round cornerback, which should allow the Ravens to manufacture more ‘coverage’ sacks.
After a fast start in 2016, the Ravens pass rush noticeably tapered off in the second half of the season. The club finished the regular season with 31 total sacks, tied for 24th best in the NFL. Baltimore’s three year sack average is 39 per season, including 37 in 2015 and 49 in 2014. Considering the talented new personnel on defense, the Ravens are more than capable of reaching 45 regular season sacks. Sack distribution projections:
- OLB Terrell Suggs - 8.5 sacks
After 14 seasons banging in the trenches, ‘Sizzle’ is not what he once was physically. Yet he posted a respectable eight sacks last year, including a few against top left tackles, and will benefit from a reduced workload.
- OLB Matt Judon - 5.5 sacks
The second-year player with a plus motor and size should receive starter’s reps on the strong side. Judon is poised to better his total of four quarterback takedowns as a rookie following a productive offseason.
- OLB Tyus Bowser - 5 sacks
Bowser is a second round rookie who has impressed at minicamp. He is versatile enough to drop into coverage or get home off the edge, which will allow the coaches to call deceptive plays.
- OLB Tim Williams - 4.5 sacks
Primarily a speed rusher, Williams posted 20 sacks for Alabama. He will likely be used in a situational role as a rookie. While his sack totals may not reach the loftiest expectations, he will create ‘clean-up’ sack opportunities for his teammates with his quickness.
- DE Bronson Kaufusi - 3.5 sacks
Kaufusi is a bit of an enigma entering his second year. He entered the league with 25.5 sacks on his college resume but needed to add strength to play as a down lineman full time. His rookie season was lost to injury, yet he should earn opportunities to chase the quarterback in sub packages this coming season.
- S Tony Jefferson - 3 sacks
An important free agent signing, Jefferson has recorded two sacks in each of the previous two seasons for the Cardinals. He should set up close to the line of scrimmage and become an impact playmakers in the Ravens diverse scheme.
- DT Willie Henry - 3 sacks
Henry was essentially redshirted last year as a developmental rookie. However, he has the skillset of a penetrating interior lineman and was a productive pass rusher at Michigan. Now that Jernigan has been shipped off to the Eagles, Henry is ready to take some of Timmy’s five sacks from 2016.
- ILB Kamalei Correa - 2.5 sack
Correa is currently penciled in as a starting inside ‘backer next to Mosley. He has a non-stop motor and pass rushing chops, as evidenced by his 20 sacks in college. His versatility should give the coaches reason to devise creative blitzes.
- DT Brandon Williams - 2 sacks
‘B-Will’ is one of the top-10 run pluggers in the NFL, and is hoping to increase his sack output after signing a lucrative contract. He will probably be more effective at collapsing the pocket with increased reps at 3-technique. Still, Brandon does not have the burst to chase down mobile quarterbacks and the Ravens might be better served saving his energy for run downs.
- DE Chris Wormley - 2 sacks
This ‘plug-and-play’ third round rookie is the frontrunner for the base end job. Wormley is not a flashy player, but will pick up a couple sacks playing assignment sound football.
- OLB Za’Darius Smith - 2 sacks
A victim of the sophomore slump, Smith’s sack totals fell from 5.5 as a rookie to one in 2016. He has the size and experience to slide down into a three-point stance for passing situations. Expect a bounce back year, even with limited reps.
- DT Michael Pierce - 1.5 sacks
The former undrafted free agent emerged to become Baltimore’s best defensive lineman as a rookie by some measurements. He will never be an elite pass rusher, but his ability to collapse the pocket from the interior is a valuable trait.
- ILB C.J. Mosley - 1 sack
C.J. was held without a sack last season, after posting seven total in his first two years. The decline in sack numbers was not his fault, the Ravens just did not ask Mosley to shoot the A-gap very often in 2016. Expect this trend to continue since his talent is best utilized patrolling the middle of the field.
- S Eric Weddle - 1 sack
The savvy veteran made a big impact in his first year with Baltimore, including 14 passes deflected and four interceptions, yet recorded only one sack. Weddle is expected to play the deep safety role more frequently in 2017, capping his sack potential.
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