In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Ravens picked three outside rushers: Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi and Matt Judon. Of these three, one has taken the leap from Division-II football to starting talent in the NFL.
In 2016, Judon managed to sack the quarterback four times. He started zero games, as he was in rotation with Za’Darius Smith, Elvis Dumervil and Albert McClellan, but played in 14 games.
Judon wasn’t utilized often; he only received 308 snaps on defense. Compare this to Smith’s 494 or McClellan’s 603 and you realize Judon was still developing and the Ravens were expecting Za’Darius to make take the next step after his 5.5 sack rookie season. Unfortunately, Za’Darius took a step back with only one sack in 13 games, with four starts.
Judon surged into training camp his sophomore season with strength and ferocity, ultimately overtaking Za’Darius for the second outside linebacker spot. No doubt about it, after a full season as a Raven, and a full off-season to grow and work on his craft, Matt came prepared to play like a Raven.
At the beginning of the 2017 season, Judon started off slow; his first five games didn’t go so well after a strong camp: zero sacks. The man was clearly frustrated, but week six was when he turned up the heat. Against the Chicago Bears, Matt racked up two sacks and 12(!) total tackles. While the Ravens did lose the game in overtime, Judon proved he could do more for the team.
By the end of the regular season, Judon doubled his 2016 sack total from four to eight. He became a staple of the Ravens defense also, playing in 789 snaps, only C.J Mosley (1,078) played in more.
Now, though, there’s a chance for Matt to take over as the Ravens star pass-rusher. Terrell Suggs turns 36 in October, and there’s only so much more punishment Sizzle can take. This leaves a vacancy, something the Ravens have felt all too often with their franchise All-stars retiring. If Judon continues growing and learning, he can fill the void Suggs leaves, if he, in fact, does post-2018.
We can all hope Judon yet again doubles the previous season’s total once more and he posts a sack-per-game in 2018, but what to watch for is his consistency in both the running and passing game.
Many outside linebackers throughout history have played strictly for the high sack-totals, but Suggs was not one of them. He mauled running-backs, stuffed blockers and hit quarterbacks with the same tenacity. Judon’s demonstrated the same hunger for carnage, and in his third season, I’m confident he’ll display the same motor. Watch for the big hits, chips on tight-ends, spin-moves, bull-rushes and ultimately, the next step of Judon’s progression unfold.