NFL free agency officially kicks off on March 18. For the next few weeks up until then, we’ll be profiling some players on the market that the Ravens could potentially target. This time, the focus is on LB Cory Littleton from the Los Angeles Rams.
You can view past free agent profiles here:
Player: Cory Littleton
Position: Inside Linebacker
2019 stats: 134 tackles, 3.5 sacks, six TFL, five QB hits, two forced fumbles
PFF grade: 78.9
Market Value (Spotrac): $12.2 million per year (four years, $48.8 million)
After losing C.J. Mosley in free agency last offseason, many speculated that the Ravens would suffer defensively due to a drop-off at the inside linebacker position. Others were optimistic that the the potential trio of Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young and Chris Board would do enough to offset the absence of Mosley.
Ultimately, neither scenario proved to be entirely true. The Ravens managed to finish with a top-five defensive unit but instead of Young and Board, it was the emergence of two veteran free agent signees that proved to be the difference: Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort.
Onwuasor and Bynes are both set to hit unrestricted free agency in the coming weeks, leaving Fort as the only proven commodity at the middle linebacker spot. On paper, it’s one of the team’s biggest offseason needs but just how much Eric DeCosta chooses to prioritize linebacker over other positions remains to be seen.
Many draft experts have linked the two top linebackers in this year’s rookie class, Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen, as likely options for the Ravens in the first round. Looking at the free agent market, though, Cory Littleton stands out as a potential target.
Littleton is hitting free agency for the first time after playing four full seasons with the Rams, drawing 37 career starts since 2016 and playing roughly 94.5% of Los Angeles’ defensive snaps over the past two seasons.
Since 2018, Littleton has been of the most productive players in the NFL at the position, totaling a combined 259 tackles, 15 TFL, 7.5 sacks and five interceptions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl two years ago but did not receive the same honor this past season despite recording near-identical - and in many cases superior - numbers across the board.
Littleton’s emerged as one of the premier off-ball linebackers in the league. Over the past two seasons, he’s graded out better in pass coverage than all but two other players at the position: Luke Kuechly and Lavonte David. While he excels in defending against the pass, Littleton remains an active and impactful force against the run and as a pass-rusher - as evidenced by his tackles and sacks numbers.
PFF had Littleton ranked 16th on their list of the top-50 overall free agents.
Cory Littleton proved to develop into one of the most versatile players in the league in 2019. Any way he could get to the ball, he did! Tackles, Pass rushing, force fumbles, interceptions, pass deflections, you name it. Hoping #58 remains a Ram for the long haul! pic.twitter.com/zZvAarYn3x— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) February 10, 2020
.@BigGame81, can we nominate Cory Littleton for #AllHands? pic.twitter.com/aO26u0cyw2— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) October 20, 2019
Cory Littleton is balling out today. First a forced fumble and recovery. Now THIS. #LARvsCAR #LARams— NFL (@NFL) September 8, 2019
: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch on mobile: https://t.co/PoZiStO3mL pic.twitter.com/obWDUl5iKD
Fit with the Ravens:
Littleton would be hard-pressed for a lack of playing time here in Baltimore, where he’d immediately step in as a starting inside linebacker and become the most proven commodity the team has at that position. Littleton’s versatile skill set would allow “Wink” Martindale to move him around the field and deploy him in creative packages. His ability to cover tight ends and running backs in space would prove valuable, too.
Littleton is a talented player with a solid statistical resume, at a position that’s relatively weak both in this year’s free agency crop and in the NFL overall. Add in the fact that he’s just entering the prime of his career and Littleton should be in line for a pricy new contract.
Based on what we’ve seen thus far, it’d be surprising to see the Ravens be the team who gives it to him. Eric DeCosta has prioritized building the defense back-to-front, investing money in the secondary at the expense of the linebacker and defensive corps. After letting Mosley walk in free agency and ignoring the position in the draft and free agency last offseason, it would be a bit of a shocker to see DeCosta shell out a hefty sum for Littleton.
With that being said, if the Ravens do seek a significant upgrade at linebacker and are willing to spend big bucks to do so, Littleton is a premier option in free agency.