As we enter free agency in a few weeks, the Baltimore Ravens main mission will be on offense, after spending the majority of their capital last offseason on defense. When you hear the front office and owner Steve Bisciotti talk, you do get the sense that’s the direction they are going. However, it would be best to balance their actions on offense and defense. The defense, as good as the stats will show, needs improvement as well.
Two positions that could very well need help on defense are cornerback and especially the pass rush on the edges. Baltimore maybe deep at cornerback when you first look at the depth chart, but Jimmy Smith’s status for the start of the season is in doubt after tearing his Achilles in early December against the Detroit Lions, no one knows if he will be 100% at any point at all next year. Tavon Young is coming off a torn ACL, and Brandon Carr could be a candidate for release, although Ozzie Newsome made it clear at the combine that Carr is probably staying. The pass rush on the edges however, might be the department Baltimore needs help at the most on defense.
The Ravens led the NFL in turnovers and had 41 sacks in 2017, but at outside linebacker, the sacks came mostly from Terrell Suggs with eleven, and Matthew Judon, who had eight. High draft picks in recent seasons such as Za’Darius Smith and Tyus Bowser disappointed in 2017 with a combined 6.5 sacks, and Tim Williams did little to nothing in his rookie campaign. Baltimore needs a more consistent pass rush on the edges, and an interesting option is now available in free agency in the form of Willie Young.
Young was picked in the seventh round of the 2010 draft by the Lions, but it was as a member of the Chicago Bears where Young contributed the most. He signed in Chicago in 2014, and notched 10.5 sacks in a 4-3 scheme at defensive end. Chicago then hired Vic Fangio as their defensive coordinator, moving to a 3-4 and Young to outside linebacker. While Young didn’t match the 10.5 sack 2014 year, he still did well the following two seasons with 6.5 and 7.5 sacks, respectively, along with 45 total tackles combined.
Last season, Young’s year ended prematurely in Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers when he suffered a torn triceps. Young already had two sacks on the year prior to the injury. After his injury, Chicago released Young on Wednesday and saved $3.5 million in cap space. While Young is turning 33 in September and coming off his injury, he could still add value to a team’s pass rush.
For the Ravens, Young showed in Chicago that he can play in the 3-4, and the lack of a pass rush on the edges Baltimore had other than Suggs and Judon last season, is a reason to consider him. He won’t take snaps away from Suggs and he definitely shouldn’t when it comes to the further development of Judon, but Smith, Bowser and Williams showed little, and bringing in Young for depth could help immensely. If a team wants to make a run at the playoffs and potentially go deep, you need depth on the edges to get after the quarterback.
General Manager Ozzie Newsome selected Bowser and Williams in the second and third rounds of the 2017 draft, so the expectation is that those two will make a jump in 2018. However, after their rookie campaigns, it’s going to have to be a big jump in production. Smith is in a contract year and while the former 2015 fourth round selection has only notched ten sacks in his three-year career, he could do what many Baltimore defensive players have done by coming up big before leaving in free agency. However, even that is a question mark. Suggs, as good as he has been, is turning 36 and father time is undefeated.
Young would be a “low risk, high reward” signing and a good add to an edge pass rush that can’t rely on Suggs forever.