Suggesting a hybrid safety could be the missing link to constructing a legitimately dominant Ravens defense in 2018 may seem counterintuitive. After all, Baltimore’s 10th best pass defense was their highest ranked phase in 2017. Furthermore, the Ravens tandem of Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are both among the sixteen highest paid safeties in the league.
Could drafting a safety be the best use of the first round pick? Potentially. Elite prospect Derwin James may be the exact player the Ravens need to elevate their defense from good to great.
James is a hyper-athletic specimen in the tradition of the late, great Sean Taylor. He burst on to the scene in 2015, earning Freshman All-American honors with 9.5 tackles for a loss, five pass breakups, 4.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. A torn lateral meniscus ended his sophomore season after two games, as Derwin opted for stitches instead of the scalpel to preserve the cartilage in his knee for his professional career. Returning in 2017, James posted eleven pass breakups, 5.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, a sack and a blocked kick in route to first-team All-American recognition.
The Florida State product has the skillset to succeed at any task new coordinator Don Martindale’s scheme assigns him. A vicious open field tackler and accomplished blitzer off the edge. James has superb range as a deep safety in zone coverage, while also demonstrating an ability to pattern match in man. Derwin was given an opportunity to return kickoffs for the Seminoles, an impressive note for a 6’3 215 pound safety.
While there is merit in the belief the upgrading the inside linebacker position next to C.J. Mosley should be a priority, a case can be made that improved safety play should be the preferred remedy. The Ravens defense was embarrassed by tight ends all season long, an instinctual safety could solve this problem immediately. Baltimore’s run defense was punished by several power backs in 2017, a sure tackling safety may be able to correct this issue better than another inside linebacker would considering the trend towards personnel packages with extra defensive backs.
As proven by the 2013 Seahawks, 2015 Broncos and 2017 Jaguars, an elite pass defense can propel a team to a deep postseason run in the modern NFL. Derwin James is a generational talent who could be the final piece to creating another dominant defense in Baltimore. If James is still available when the Ravens go on the clock in the first round, he should warrant strong consideration.