Unlike many other teams, the Ravens, thanks to Eric DeCosta’s superb drafting abilities, will have a number of rookies who will be given opportunities to earn a starting position right away. Most notably, both Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison are the most obvious rookie candidates to become starters. With the departures of Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, two holes in the heart of the Ravens defense are currently left unoccupied.
Given expectations that Queen and Harrison will be immediate starters (assuming that Harrison beats out L.J. Fort for the starting job), now lies the debate on who will have the better season. Recently, Queen has been billed as a defensive rookie of the year candidate for this upcoming season, but let’s not be so quick to write off Harrison.
Though Harrison occupied the MIKE linebacker spot while at Ohio State, he is projected to fill the WILL linebacker role vacated by Onwuasor, who specialized in blitzing and run-support during his time as a Raven. Harrison excelled at shooting gaps and converting tackles-for-losses during his senior season. He tallied 16.5 TFL in his final year as a Buckeye. Harrison was easily one of the strongest tacklers in the entire Buckeye defense.
I expect Harrison to flourish as the WILL linebacker this season. He will accumulate many tackles in addition to being a constant creator of pressure in the passing game. “Wink” Martindale will be sure to blitz Harrison often as he showcased excellent blitzing abilities while at Ohio State.
At the same time, Harrison doesn't possess the natural coverage abilities like Queen does. Consequently, coaches will most likely have Harrison stick to his strengths and not be tasked to frequently cover tight ends, running backs, and slot receivers like Queen will.
Another limitation that Harrison may encounter will be general playing time. History has proven that returning players are more likely to start over rookies, especially early on in the regular season. This trend will hold true this year more so than past years due to the uncertainty around the duration of training camp as well as practices leading up to the commencement of the regular season.
More likely than not, Fort will get the initial starting nod due to his experience and familiarity of the team’s defensive system. Harrison won’t have nearly enough reps and comfort with the Ravens’ complex defense to flourish right away. Early on, expect Harrison to come in for defensive sub-packages as well as most special teams situations.
As we all know, Eric DeCosta drafted Patrick Queen to solidify an essential spot in our defense that has lacked stability since the departure of C.J. Mosley. As a first-round draft pick, the starting MIKE linebacker position is Queen’s to lose. Unlike Harrison, there aren't any legitimate incumbents who could challenge Queen to be the center of the Ravens’ defense.
Queen has all the tools needed to immediately find success within the Ravens’ defense. His winning attitude, as developed through LSU’s winning culture, tremendous athleticism, and advanced instincts will allow him to quickly find a home in the nucleus of the defense.
Not only is Queen a sideline-to-sideline run defender, but he arguably has the best pass coverage abilities among all linebackers in the 2020 NFL Draft. Despite the Ravens having an exceptional lineage at the MIKE linebacker spot with Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley, neither of those players were as smooth as Queen is in coverage.
Towards the latter part of his career, Lewis required defensive back help in coverage. Mosley, despite his consistent run defending abilities, was too often a liability in pass coverage. Queen, as he gains more experience and comfort at the position, will most likely be tasked to guard tight ends and running backs one-on-one. Queen’s speed and strong anticipatory skills will allow for him to find success when in pass coverage.
Though undersized, Queen makes up for it with his speed, instincts, and anticipation. Queen may have initial trouble bringing down bigger running backs, he will often find himself as the first man to the ball where he will impede the running back’s forward momentum and allow for gang tackling to end the play.
Although I have no doubts that Harrison will combine with Queen to become a scary tandem, it may not be right away. With full commitment to handing the reigns to Queen as the starting MIKE linebacker, he will have every opportunity to make his mark from day one. Unfortunately, it'd be difficult to say the same for Harrison. With Fort as the incumbent starter, it only makes sense to give him the initial starting nod for the betterment off the defense. Additionally, it would be a dicey move to immediately start two rookie linebackers in a 3-4 defense. That being said, I expect Harrison to overtake Fort as the starter at some point this season.
In terms of who has a better season, all pieces are in place for Queen to excel and have a strong rookie season. Unless Harrison quickly overtakes Fort as the starter, I don't see him making an impact until mid-season. Though I have no doubt that both Queen and Harrison will be essential to the success of the Ravens defense this season, time and experience are simply not on Harrison’s side, which is why Queen will have the better rookie season.
Who will have the better rookie season?
This poll is closed
A. Patrick Queen
B. Malik Harrison