clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

In a contract year, Za’Darius Smith could shine for the Ravens

Baltimore Ravens vs Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round (122nd overall) of the 2015 NFL draft, Za’Darius Smith now enters the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.

In his three years in the NFL with the Ravens, Smith has accumulated only 10 sacks. It is worth noting, over half of them came in his rookie year (5.5).

Smith is the type of player who doesn’t jump out on the stat sheet, but what he brings to the team is quite valuable. He would be viewed as a much more important cog in the defense if just a couple of plays here and there had gone his way, leading to a possibly much higher career sack total.

In 2015, star linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles in the first week of the season against the Denver Broncos. This left the Ravens with a huge void to fill at the outside linebacker position. Smith stepped up as a fourth round rookie and showed a lot of promise with 5.5 sacks on the season. Ravens fans were excited for Smith and his possible ceiling as a pass rusher.

In his sophomore year, Smith severely disappointed, finishing the season with only one sack. This was partly due to the return of Suggs and the emergence of rookie Matthew Judon. Smith was on the roster bubble entering the 2017 season, as the Ravens selected two more linebackers in the draft, Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, in hopes of improving the pass rush.

Smith made the team, and contributed more than any non-starting outside linebacker with 3.5 sacks, 24 total tackles, and a forced fumble. He played a key role in the teams overall sack total (41) by consistently pressuring the quarterback and engaging blocks to allow other players such as Judon or Suggs to close in and make the sack.

It’s not uncommon for a player’s production to increase dramatically in a contract year, which Smith is now entering. Just look to former Raven Paul Kruger. Before his contract year, he had amassed only 6.5 sacks. In year four, he had nine. Smith could very well do the same and exceed his season best 5.5 sacks in 2018.

There are some who feel the Ravens should trade Smith for an extra draft pick, but I believe they would be wise to hold onto him for one final year. They just may be rewarded for it.