With training camp in full swing and cut day on the horizon, we’re quickly approaching the start of the 2020 NFL regular season.
Amidst an offseason unlike any other, it’s easy to forget what’s at stake for the Ravens this season and where individual players stand. As such, we’ll examine each player’s outlook for the 2020 campaign on a position-by-position basis.
Shifting now to the defensive side of the ball, there’s no other place to start but up front by examining the Ravens’ front seven. It’s a group that looks awfully different compared to last season, with over half of the depth chart having been overhauled.
Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington Jr. were added to the mix in free agency and in the draft, while returning veterans include Brandon Williams, Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis.
“Big Baby” is not only one of the longest-tenured Ravens on the roster heading into 2020, but he’s also set to be the only returning starter on the defensive line.
With Michael Pierce no longer in the picture, Brandon Williams is sliding back over to his natural position of nose guard — where he’s proven to play at a higher level throughout his career.
Williams began his career as a nose tackle before playing more in the three-technique spot in recent years. Between 2017-2019, Williams has graded out as the 91st-ranked defensive lineman in the NFL when lined up at positions other than NT.
However, in snaps taken when lined up against opposing centers, Williams ranked No. 4 among all defensive lineman and earned the second-highest grade in run defense.
In 2019, Williams was once again solid as a run-stopping presence. At this point it’s evident that Williams will never offer very much as a pass-rusher, but he’ll now be flanked by two proven veterans who specialize in getting after the quarterback. This will take pressure off of Williams and allow him to plug the interior of the front seven with more ease.
Add these factors together and Williams should be in-line for a fairly strong campaign, even at the age of 31.
The Ravens’ biggest aqusition this offseason — literally and figuratevely — was Calais Campbell, who Baltimore acquired in a trade with the Jaguars.
Campbell will be 34 years old on September 1 but has shown little signs of slowing down in recent seasons, instead continuing to play at a Pro Bowl level. Campbell has been one of the NFL’s most consistent pass-rushers and run defenders for the better part of the decade. He has never posted less than five sacks in a season and has recorded 20 or more QB hits in every season since 2015.
Last season, Campbell’s sack (6.5) and tackle (56) totals dipped from 2018 but he graded out as PFF’s No. 1 run defender in the league. Campbell’s overall PFF grade of 90.3 is wildly impressive, too.
Campbell is a surefire to make a big impact for the Ravens in 2020. He’ll instantly provide them with the interior pass-rushing presence they’ve desperately lacked over the past several years, while also aiding in setting the edge and plugging gaps in run defense.
He also brings pedigree and veteran leadership to the table, which has already been on display throughout training camp. By all accounts, Campbell’s transition to Baltimore has been seamless thus far and expect that to continue into the regular season.
After a falling out with free agent DE Michael Brockers, the Ravens then shifted focus towards veteran Derek Wolfe — a more than suitable consolation prize.
Wolfe played the previous eight seasons of his career in Denver, where he comprised 299 combined tackles. 33 sacks and 77 QB hits. Last year, Wolfe was in the midst of a potential career-best season before suffering a season-ending elbow injury in Week 13.
Through 12 games, Wolfe had already posted a single-season high in sacks with seven, while also adding 12 QB hits and 18 pressures. He earned a solid 68.3 grade from PFF.
Like Campbell, Wolfe has gotten off to a strong start in training camp and appears to be gelling quite well with his new teammates. Playing alongside Campbell, Williams and Matthew Judon, as well as having the benefit of playing in “Wink” Martindale’s scheme, should give Wolfe plenty of opportunities to make plays in 2020.
After the aforementioned starting trio, it’s anyone guess what the rotation could look like along the front seven. All early indicators point to rookie Justin Madubuike having a fairly sizebale role in Year 1, though.
Madubuike’s stock is on the rise in training camp, as he’s earned high recognition from both coaches and veteran teammates alike. Maubuike was seen by some a steal when the Ravens drafted him at No. 70 overall and so far, he’s living up the billing.
It’s early and expectations should be kept to a minimum, of course, but there’s reason for optimism regarding Madubuike’s prospects in 2020. For a natural defensive lineman, he possesses high-end explosion and athleticism. He’s an adequate pass-rusher and shows a knack for getting consistent push at the line of scrimmage.
As such, look for him to receive playing time right away in a rotational role and serve as a primary backup.
After signing with the Ravens last season just prior to Week 5, journeyman Jihad Ward’s one-year audition in Baltimore was good enough to earn himself a new contract in free agency with the team.
Ward is probably the final player on this list whose roster spot should be considered “safe” as cut day approaches. He’s not incredibly flashy nor brings any unique athletic traits to the table, but Ward is a solid all-around depth piece.
Ward can be classified best as a defensive end but also filled more of an outside linebacker role at times last year, demonstrating the ability to set the edge and win matchups against offensive tackles.
His versatility is his calling card and primary path to playing time in 2020.
After Brandon Williams, the only other true nose tackle on the roster is Justin Ellis, otherwise known as “Jelly.”
Like Ward, Ellis was a midseason addition to the Ravens in 2019 as the the team looked to bolster their front seven. He wound up suiting up in four games in the second half of the season and posted six combined tackles.
Ellis didn’t make a significant impact in 2019 but showed enough for the Ravens to re-sign him in free agency and bring him back into the fold. Ellis provides another big body up front and is fairly stout as a run defender.
If he finds himself on the 53-man roster, he’ll face an uphill battle to carve out consistent playing time in 2020, though, given the depth on the front seven.
Broderick Washington Jr.
Rounding out this list is rookie Broderick Washington Jr., who the Ravens selected in the fifth round of this year’s draft out of Texas Tech.
It’s rare that the Ravens’ draft pick fails to make the 53-man roster, but — like Ellis — Washington’s spot isn’t necessarily set in stone as cut day nears given the crowded nature of the depth chart. It’s difficult to imagine the Ravens keeping both Ellis and Washington on the active roster considering they bring similar attributes to the table, but Washington could have an advantage given his youth and upside.
Through his sophomore and senior seasons in college, Washington started every single game and was named team captain in his final year with Texas Tech. His pedigree and impressive resume are likely key reasons why the Ravens sought to draft him.
In terms of his on-field prospects, though, Washington would be hard-pressed to find a path to significant playing time in 2020. He could also be a potential IR stash this year, as the Ravens did with Daylon Mack last season during his rookie year.