AFC North free agency grades: Ravens get highest grade, but rest of the division is starting to catch up - Bryan DeArdo
Baltimore’s main objective at the start of free agency was to make sure one of their top edge rushers would avoid hitting the open market. The Ravens were able to do just that, placing the franchise tag on OLB Matthew Judon, who earned his first Pro Bowl selection after recording a career-high 9.5 sacks last season.
Baltimore was able to significantly improve their defensive line, a position group that allowed Derrick Henry to rush for 195 yards and a score in Baltimore’s first-round playoff loss to the Titans. The Ravens sent a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Jaguars (which came from the trade of TE Hayden Hurst to the Falcons) for DE Calais Campbell who is coming off of his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl selection. The Ravens also signed former Rams’ DL Michael Brockers to a three-year, $30 million deal. Baltimore also re-signed fellow defensive linemen Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis along with cornerback Jimmy Smith.
With limited cap space, the Ravens were not able to address all of their current needs, specifically at wide receiver and inside linebacker. And while they were able to retain Judon, the Ravens still need to add another pass rusher to their defense after finishing 22nd in the league in sacks last season. Baltimore also still needs to fill the void left by the recent retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshall Yanda’s retirement. Expect the Ravens to address these needs during next month’s draft.
12 Underrated NFL Free Agency Moves That Could Pay Off - Danny Heifetz
DT Michael Brockers (and DE Calais Campbell) to the Baltimore Ravens
Brockers’s deal: Three years for $30 million
Actual commitment: Two years for $21 million
Jacksonville gets: Fifth-round pick (no. 170)
Baltimore gets: Campbell
The Ravens don’t have many weaknesses, but one of them in 2019 was the defensive line. Last year they let pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs leave in free agency, and they made up for it by spending lavishly in the secondary. The team hired Seahawks legend and future Hall of Famer Earl Thomas to play safety and traded at midseason for All-Pro Marcus Peters to play cornerback. The Ravens flipped the conventional team-building script and skimped on the front seven and invested in the secondary, and the result was the fourth-most-efficient defense in football. They were a Super Bowl favorite before losing in the divisional round, so they didn’t need to make a ton of changes. They did anyway.
This offseason the Ravens said “screw it” and threw money at their defensive line. They franchise-tagged breakout edge rusher Matt Judon, who had 9.5 sacks and 33 quarterback hits in 2019. They traded for Campbell, the older and off-brand version of Khalil Mack (he has 31.5 sacks over the last three years). Then the Ravens signed Brockers, Aaron Donald’s longtime partner who would have been the highest-graded regular defensive tackle for the Ravens on PFF in 2019. Baltimore has significantly improved five positions—both edge rusher spots, defensive tackle, free safety, and cornerback—in the last year on defense. (You may have also heard the Ravens made some improvements on offense in that time.) If the Patriots are the NFL’s savviest front office, the Ravens are in second place.
5. Malik Harrison, Ohio State
Ohio State had NFL starters at every level of their defense last year and Malik Harrison was a relatively unsung star given the big names he played with. Harrison is not only impressively built, but he is a phenomenal athlete. Harrison plays an extremely aggressive brand of football that leads to highlight plays against the run and as a pass defender. He is the type of tackler who will tattoo ball carriers a few times a game. Harrison’s aggression is a double-edged sword that can also hurt him from time to time. If a team can temper Harrison’s playing style, they have a star on their hands.
Pro Comparison: KJ Wright
4. Troy Dye, Oregon
A personal favorite. Troy Dye was an outstanding presence on the Oregon defense. Dye is a smart, physical player who isn’t afraid to fight through traffic to make plays. Dye’s toughness was crucial for Oregon and teams will love the sort of leadership dynamic he could bring to an NFL defense.
Pro Comparison: Zach Cunningham
3. Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
A combination of athleticism, coverage skills and big play mentality make Kenneth Murray a potential first round pick. Murray is an every down defender with blitzing capability. His aggressiveness and lack of consistency as a block shedder can get him into trouble, but his plus traits are too hard to overlook. Murray will be a longtime playmaker in the NFL.
Pro Comparison: Lawrence Timmons
2. Patrick Queen, LSU
After sending Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones and Devin White to the NFL, Patrick Queen is the next big name for LSU linebackers to make the pro-jump. Queen only started for one full year, but played a pivotal role in the Tigers national championship push towards the end of the season. Queen is a smaller defender at six foot and nearly 230 pounds, but his explosiveness and playing speed are impossible to ignore. If he can continue his rate of improvement in the NFL, he will be a star.
Pro Comparison: Eric Kendricks