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.
One position that almost surely won’t be impacted by roster cuts is outside linebacker, where the Ravens are set to return all four edge rushers from last season. While the depth chart may look the same, not every player is in the same situation compared to last year.
Let’s break it down.
Fresh off a career-best campaign, Matthew Judon is once again looking to earn himself a long-term contract in 2020. Judon was franchise tagged by the Ravens this offseason and is once again set to lead the team’s edge-rushers.
Judon was the most consistent and impactful pass-rusher on the roster in 2019. He once again proved himself to be one-trick pony, though, as Judon dropped into coverage far more than most of the premier outside linebackers in the NFL. Additionally, he was fairly strong in run defense, too.
Judon’s snap count of 793, which represented 81% of the team’s total defensive snaps, were by the far most of his career. His career-high production in sacks (9.5), QB hits (33), and forced fumbles (4) squashed any preseason notion that he might struggle with a greater workload.
At 28 years old, Judon is squarely in the prime of his career now and could theoretically still build upon his production from 2019. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him eclipse double-digit sacks for the first time this season, as well as continue to be productive in other facets of the game.
Heading into last season, Tyus Bowser had so far failed to live up the billing of a being a former second-round pick. In his first two seasons, Bowser played a grand total of 321 defensive snaps despite being active for all but one game.
Bowser’s opportunity expanded in 2019, though, and we saw him begin to turn a corner and produce a career-best season. Bowser eclipsed his career snap count in just last season alone (390) and recorded five sacks, 10 QB hits, 14 pressures, and a forced fumble. He proved to have a legitimate impact in spurts and consistently played with a high motor and relentless energy.
Entering the 2020 season, Bowser is in a prime spot to follow in the footsteps of those before him: Pernell McPhee, Courtney Upshaw, Za’Darius Smith, etc.
What do these players have in common? They’re all former Ravens’ pass-rushers who produced a breakout campaign in their fourth career season and earned themselves a pay raise in free agency — ultimately pricing themselves out of Baltimore’s range.
Bowser, of course, is heading into a contract year himself and figures to have the ample amount of opportunities needed to do the same. All indications out of training camp have suggested that Bowser looks fantastic and is in peak physical condition.
After a solid but unspectacular rookie season, Jaylon Ferguson is prime to make significant strides in Year 2.
Even more so than Bowser, Ferguson took on a much larger role in McPhee’s absence. In Weeks 3-6, Ferguson played 82 defensive snaps. From Week 7 on, he played greater than 62% of snaps in every single game and saw fewer than 40 snaps in just four games.
Seeing the field more brought about mixed results. Ferguson looked a bit overmatched at times and struggled to consistently set the edge. However, there were also a handful of occasions where Ferguson’s physical strength and high motor proved impactful.
He appeared to gradually improve as the season progressed, which is an encouraging sign for any young player. If Ferguson can add more diverse pass-rushing moves to his repertoire and improve his fluidity, he will become a far more well-rounded player.
Even incrimental improvements from Ferguson though, could go a long way in increasing the ceiling of the Ravens defense in 2020.
Pernell McPhee was re-signed to a one-year deal earlier this offseason after his return in Baltimore last season was cut short. McPhee began the 2019 campaign as a starter opposite Matthew Judon but suffered a torn triceps injury in Week 7, which required season-ending surgery.
Prior to going down, McPhee was well on his way to eclipsing his statistical production of recent years, having posted three sacks, six QB hits and nine pressures. McPhee, who turned 31 in December, demonstrated he still had some juice left in the tank.
McPhee is no longer an every-down player and best-suited to be used in a rotational role and see the field in spurts. Luckily, this is exactly the role the Ravens will ask him to play in 2020 and it’s one that he could potentially thrive in.
McPhee gives the Ravens defense another capable edge-rusher who can get to the quarterback. Additionally, he’s proven to be a well-respected veteran in the locker room and a valuable mentor to younger players like Jaylon Ferguson.