The Baltimore Ravens are as well known for good linebacker play as is any franchise in the league is for almost anything. They’re equally as well known for finding good value at the position by finding unheralded players who are able to contribute at a high level over a long period of time.
The heritage is reflected in players such as Adalius Thomas, Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, and Matt Judon more recently. But perhaps the most recent example is a rookie they picked up in the fourth round of this draft, inside ‘backer Kenny Young out of UCLA.
Young has been turning heads since the pads came on, flashing athleticism and solid fundamentals over the first two weeks of the season. He’s quickly worked his way into the lineup next to the starters, and has split time with Patrick Onwausor at the second middle linebacker spot.
Even so, he’s shown great ability, and has posted what would’ve been an unexpected stat line. 12 tackles and a sack to kick off 2018 is a very impressive start, and as a result he’s beginning to catch the eye of football’s national media.
One such national outlet is Bleacher Report, who recently released an article making a case for one rookie on each NFL team that deserves more reps moving forward. Unsurprisingly, Young is the guy they’ve tabbed for Baltimore after the fourth rounder grabbed their attention on Thursday night in the loss to Cincinnati:
Linebacker Kenny Young could see more time on the field because of C.J. Mosley’s knee injury. Even if the three-time Pro Bowler returns to action in Week 3 against the Denver Broncos, the Baltimore Ravens should increase the rookie’s snap count and reel back on Patrick Onwuasor’s usage in coverage. In his regular-season debut against the Buffalo Bills, Young played a limited role but finished with four tackles and a sack. In Week 2, he didn’t have a flawless outing against the Cincinnati Bengals in coverage but showed great instincts after Mosley exited with an injury, per Clifton Brown of the team’s official website. “He played with speed and anticipation and was a consistent presence around the ball, particularly in the second half when Baltimore held the Bengals to just six points,” Brown wrote. “...Young had two tackles for no gain in the second quarter. In the third quarter, he blitzed up the middle and nearly sacked [Andy] Dalton.” As a rookie, Young will make some mistakes; however, he spent four years at UCLA and may be able to quickly pick up the professional game. He’s capable of filling a role in the nickel package as a cover defender and being an effective blitzer when necessary. Regardless of Mosley’s status, Young should see extra reps at practices and an expanded role in the short term.
The obvious caveat here is one they do make mention of; Mosley’s injury automatically calls for reinforcements at the position which Young should be by default. It is fair to say that he should be seeing time either way though.
As a player, he’s a great complement to Onwausor in that he provides some raw athleticism that ‘Peanut’ just doesn’t possess. As the above blurb states, he’ll get lost at times and allow certain plays to be made, but his abilities ensure that he’ll always be around the ball.
Young is a great argument here based upon what he’s tangibly shown but there are a certainly ones to be made for other Baltimore rookies. One of them has flashed himself, while another hasn’t gotten he opportunity many expected him to.
Mark Andrews has looked the part of the Dennis Pitta-esque chain mover they were looking for in the third round, catching passes at a good clip and scoring a clutch touchdown to keep the Ravens in the game in Week 2. With no other dangerous pass catching threat at the position, Andrews has earned some more snaps as he’s already beginning to look like a guy Joe Flacco can put a little bit of a trust in going forward (at least until Hayden Hurst returns from injury).
Another rookie has earned consideration because the starters in front of him have looked less than serviceable to this point. Tackle Orlando Brown Jr. played well in the preseason, even in a starting role, and many thought he would be the bookend right tackle to start the year.
That hasn’t played out but with incumbent starter James Hurst struggling so far, it seems like a matter of time before the former Sooner takes over for him. The prevailing ideology is that Brown takes over on the right which would move Hurst to left guard and kick Alex Lewis to center to take over for the overmatched Matt Skura.
Regardless, it feels like Brown Jr. will need to get a look in the coming weeks to see if he can help a struggling O-line. Denver’s ferocious pass rush presents a challenge that the coaching staff could see as the perfect opportunity to roll out a new look blocking unit to give Flacco better protection.
An argument could certainly be made for any of these three (or even more) rookies to be inserted into the lineup going forward. With injuries beginning to crop up and a need for more playmakers becoming apparent, it’s likely only a matter of time.