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Ravens pre-draft roster breakdown: Defense

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How does the defense look pre-draft?

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Oakland Raiders v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Earlier this week I took an honest look at the offensive side of the Ravens roster. Today, we shift the attention to the 2018 number one defense which experienced a number of changes this offseason.

Defensive line

  • Brandon Williams
  • Michael Pierce
  • Willie Henry
  • Chris Wormley
  • Patrick Ricard
  • Zach Sieler

Analysis: Though these players can be separated along different titles of nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end, defensive line coach Joe Cullen and defensive coordinator Don Martindale often utilize these players interchangeably to attack mismatches. Therefore, I placed them all in the same category to give an overall analysis to make it a tad easier.

The starting combination of Williams, Pierce and Henry is a solid three-man unit. Williams straight-up ruins run games while Pierce and Henry bully their opposition. Whether it’s gap integrity, collapsing a pocket or swimming past the offensive line, these two produce great pressures. Pierce was the highest-graded player on defense, according to PFF (90.8).

As for the rotational players, Wormley is developing nicely. According to PFF, he added over ten points in his defensive grade and run defense grade.

Ricard and Sieler are both fighting for playing time and I believe they’d play well if it wasn’t for such a stalwart unit on the gridiron already.

Conclusion: The Ravens aren’t needing to draft an interior defensive lineman in next month, but I suspect they may have a small interest in seeking out a cheaper replacement for Brandon Williams come next year. According to Spotrac, the Ravens have a potential ‘out’ for his contract in 2020 which saves the team $4.9 million on his $14.1 million cap hit. I suspect they want to keep Pierce and that money could go his way. Unfortunately, Pierce is in a typical contract year and as we’ve all witnessed time and time again, the defensive product in Baltimore will more than likely outplay the Ravens wallet, just as Za’Darius Smith and C.J. Mosley accomplished this offseason. Especially with his skills as a pass rusher along the interior line. Getting back on track, this is a bonafide defensive unit for 2019.

Outside Linebacker/EDGE

  • Matt Judon
  • Tim Williams
  • Tyus Bowser

Analysis: With Terrell Suggs officially signing his contract with the Arizona Cardinals, it’s time to usher in the new era. Judon is now the veteran in the pass rush department and it’s time for the youth movement to create plays on the edge. Both Tim & Tyus are poised for a breakout year. It only takes one of them to truly get this number one defense back on track in 2019.

Conclusion: Though I said both the young pass rushers are poised for a breakout year, it does not guarantee they accomplish this task. Expect the Ravens to find more pass rushers in the 2019 NFL Draft as there is a need in this department. Also, Matt Judon is in his contract year and may find higher bidders at the end of the season.

Inside Linebacker

  • Patrick Onwuasor
  • Kenny Young
  • Anthony Levine Sr.
  • Chris Board
  • Alvin Jones

Analysis: I’m more than confident in this unit. I entrust Peanut to lead this defense with his high-octane energy and playmaking ability. He’s a leader; he has been since first fighting with everything he had as an undrafted free agent in 2016. I also expect to see Levine on the field more in 2019, especially after his heroic efforts on the final defensive stop against the Browns in Week 17.

Conclusion: Mosley may be gone but I’m highly confident in this unit. Unless one of the star inside linebackers fall to them at pick 22, look for the Ravens to remain confident with this trio.

Cornerback

  • Jimmy Smith
  • Marlon Humphrey
  • Brandon Carr
  • Tavon Young
  • Anthony Averett
  • Justin Bethel
  • Cyrus Jones
  • Maurice Canady

Analysis: Quite possibly the deepest cornerback unit in the NFL, with top-end talent to boot. Truly, this unit is solid. It’s uncommon for a team to rock four starting-caliber cornerbacks. Though Smith carries the largest cap hit of any Raven in 2019 ($18.85 million), the eight-year veteran is worth the price tag. The Ravens will ask a lot of this unit this season and I fully expect them to accept this challenge head on.

Conclusion: The 2019 Ravens are locked and loaded as the best in the NFL from top-to-bottom. The 2020 Ravens are a different story though, as Jimmy’s second contract with the Ravens expires after the 2019 season. Also, the team may consider cutting the then-34-year old Carr as it would save the team $6 million out of his $7 million cap hit. I don’t think the Ravens will cut Carr as Spotrac and OverTheCap estimate the Ravens in 2020 will be operating with cap space anywhere between $85.8 million to $97.1 million, but his age will certainly be a factor. Once again, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself, but these are things Eric DeCosta and the front office most certainly have already thought about and discussed.

Safety

  • Earl Thomas III
  • Tony Jefferson
  • DeShon Elliott
  • Chuck Clark

Analysis: When looking over this group, I can’t help but skip ahead to training camp. I’m eager to watch these four as Thomas is the best safety in the NFL since Ed Reed and he’s going to help command this Martindale defense. Beside him is the hard-hitting, twitter talking menace himself, Tony Jefferson. After the current slotted starters come the player I’m most excited to watch in 2019. Yes, even more than ETIII: DeShon Elliott. He has such a high game speed and solid instincts combined with a tenacious motor and I want to see the kind of football he’ll bring to an already character-filled defensive roster.

Conclusion: After bankrolling Thomas, this safety unit is set for the near future. I don’t expect a draft pick on a safety, especially with Clark and Elliott behind ETIII & TJ.