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Terrell Suggs: An underrated contingency plan if he leaves

There’s one prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft that could be a valuable replacement if the 16-year veteran decides to depart in free agency.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is a business. In most businesses, a worker is allowed to depart for a new place of employment when his contract is up. Now imagine if he is the longest-tenured worker in that company’s history and is heavily decorate in his field.

That’s Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. Suggs, 36, has played 16 seasons for Baltimore and has participated in a franchise-high 229 games. He is also tied for 13th among all-time sack leaders with 132.5. It’s truly a possibility that Suggs could be elsewhere next season. However, he has plans to stay in Baltimore.

“It may be,” Suggs said after Baltimore’s first-round exit at the hands of the Chargers. “I hope not. I would love to be a Raven for life. I’m healthy, and I still feel like I have some juice in the tank. I would love to be a Raven for life. We’ll have to see what happens. It’s a long time between here and March. So, we’re just going to enjoy it and hope we can work it out. If not, I’ll be lining up for somebody next year.”

Baltimore saw Ray Lewis enter free agency in 2009 for the first time in his career. Just like Lewis, Suggs will enter the market for the first time. Coming off of a season where he had 7.0 sacks, he could still prove to be a formidable pass rushing specialist at his age, albeit not at the 11.0-sack total that he had during the 2017 season. Regardless of his sack total in 2018, Suggs would provide leadership on defense with vast experience and knowledge of the game.

There have been other Ravens leaders on defense who have departed in free agency in the past. After the 2012 season, both Ed Reed (free agency) and Bernard Pollard (release) departed from the team. Reed ended up with the Texans (then Jets) and Pollard the Titans. Jarret Johnson left after the 2011 season and ended up with the Chargers.

“It’s pretty much out of my hands,” said Suggs. “Like I said, I would like to be a Raven for life. It might not happen that way. Unfortunately, we’ve had to see some Raven guys line up in other uniforms. I hope that’s not my case. If it is, so be it. I chose nothing. I’m a football player. I was born, and this is what I am. Like I said, I plan on lining up in 2019. So, hopefully it’s in the black and purple.”

If Suggs were to leave in free agency, Baltimore needs to think about replacing him. There are a number of defensive end/outside linebacker prospects that have the potential to be solid replacements for the 16-year linebacker. One intriguing potential draft pick is Penn State’s Shareef Miller.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Miller stands at 6’5, 259 lbs. and shows the explosion that Baltimore would need from a Suggs replacement. In his junior season with the Nittany Lions, Miller generated 7.5 sacks with 15.0 tackles for a loss and one fumble recovery, being named to the All-Big Ten third team. He declared for the draft after Penn State’s loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Citrus Bowl.

One game that stands out for Miller is his game against the Wisconsin Badgers on November 10. Miller was able to instinctively go inside of right tackle David Edwards (First-team All-Big Ten, media) and sack quarterback Jack Coan. In another play, he mauls consensus first-team All-America selection Beau Benzschawel on a twist en route to his second sack.

In the running game, Miller is seen in pursuit away from the play side. He is able to stop the running back for no gain. Each of these plays displays Miller’s high motor and ability as an edge-setter and a pass rusher.

Wisconsin is known as one of the best offensive lines in college football, if not the best. For Miller to be able to take on the Badgers and carve up their line should be a big time talking point for him heading into the upcoming NFL Draft. Sounds like a slam dunk for a Day 1 or Day 2 selection right?

Not necessarily.

Miller’s name is missing in the top-15 defensive ends on the majority nationwide draft boards. The Philadelphia native is looked at as more of an athlete than a football player — a pass rusher who has gotten by with pure athletic ability and not his technical play on the field.

The 21-year old often tries to use his strength and go head up with offensive linemen and when he gets off-balanced, he flails. With his ranginess, Miller should use his long arms to keep himself out of the reach of offensive linemen. He could fix this by adjusting his hand placement and usage. Luckily, he’s a player with explosiveness and has a high motor.

Those two traits show that he is malleable. One could fit him into defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s 3-4/hybrid system due to his athletic ability and size alone. Though he’ll be more of a project, he isn’t too far away from being able to be an impact player at the next level. He’ll impress many with his size and speed at the NFL Combine. It wouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see him be selected by the Ravens.

At the combine, Suggs ran a 4.82 40-yard dash, leaped 33 inches for his vertical and placed 19 reps for his 225-lbs. bench press. Combine metrics don’t tell the whole story, but he was able to build upon his physique each season. He also had leaders in Lewis and Reed to help guide him in the right direction.

Even if Suggs were to return for a season or two longer, it would make a ton of sense for the Ravens to go after Miller. His valuable services could be had for most likely a fourth, fifth or sixth round pick. The key isn’t for Miller to make an immediate impact, but for him to take in the knowledge from veterans and Baltimore’s coaching staff to make waves in future seasons.

It’s all about building from the ground up and finding those diamonds in the rough. Baltimore has done that recently with Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon, who were selected in the fourth and fifth rounds of 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Smith and Judon have been both solid finds in the mid rounds. In his rookie season, Smith had 5.5 sacks, but dropped back to one sack in 2016 and just 3.5 in 2017. He had a breakout season in 2018 with 8.5 sacks. Judon, a small school product from Grand Valley State, produced 4.0 sacks in his rookie season, eight in 2017 and seven this past season.

With Smith becoming a free agent this season as well, Miller would be a good immediate fit for Baltimore and a prospect that can grow into his role as time goes on.