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End of season stock report: Defense

Dallas Cowboys v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Ravens defense was once again a top-ranked unit in 2020. They finished second in the NFL in points allowed while also ranking Top 10 in both rushing and passing yards allowed, along with a handful of other statistics.

Maybe they weren’t QUITE as elite as they were last season, but it’s extremely nitpicky to be difficult of “Wink” Martindale’s group. Martindale had to plug-and-play different players throughout the season amidst injuries and the defense remained steady regardless.

They stepped up in the postseason, too. In two playoff games, the Ravens allowed just over 400 total yards and 23 combined points against the Titans and Bills.

Looking back at the season as a whole, which offensive players stock is on the rise or decline, and whose stock is neutral? Let’s take a look.


Neutral

The stock for these players is nor on the rise or decline —

Brandon Williams: Going on 32 years old, Williams remains the same player he’s been for most of his career. He’s a strong run-stuffer and subpar pass-rusher at the defensive tackle position, and an important piece of the Ravens defense nonetheless. When Williams is not in the lineup, the Ravens run defense takes a step back.

Calais Campbell: Campbell made the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Ravens despite playing in only 12 games thanks to a calf injury and COVID. He began and ended the season on high notes and demonstrated his value as an all-around force on the defensive line. Campbell will be 35 years old next season but still has fuel left in the tank to produce.

Jihad Ward: Ward was a healthy scratch for the middle portion of the season. When on the field, though, he’s demonstrated a knack for making timely plays as a tackler or pass-rusher. In 10 games of limited action, he had three sacks, eight QB hits, and four TFL. Ward won’t garner any headlines but is fairly solid in a rotational role.

Broderick Washington Jr.: Washington, a fifth-round pick, appeared in eight total games before being placed on injured reserve after Week 15. He make a very minimal impact in the box score in his limited action this season. It’s difficult to pinpoint what he brings to the table but the cement is still wet on his outlook moving forward.

Matthew Judon: Playing on the franchise tag in 2020, Judon put together another solid, albeit unspectacular campaign. Some fans will remain disappointed in the lack of gaudy sack numbers but it’s important to remember that Judon is not used as a traditional pass-rusher. He drops in coverage quite a bit and is good in that area, while also providing strong edge-setting ability in the run game.

Tyus Bowser: Bowser’s stock was on the rise in the middle of the season when he put together a three-game stretch with interceptions. Pound for pound, Bowser is maybe the most athletic player on the defense and has shown improvements over the past two seasons. He’s great in coverage but has never been a source of huge pass-rushing numbers, so it will be interesting to see what his value is on the open market.

Yannick Ngaouke: The Ravens traded two draft picks to acquire Ngaouke before the trade deadline in 2020, with the hope that he could take their pass-rush to another level. Ngaouke had a few standout moments and generally generated pressure at a solid rate. However, he struggled to finish plays with consistency and ended the season on a low note. Against the Bills, Ngaouke played a season-low 22 snaps and recorded no stats. It felt like the Ravens never got an adequate return on their investment with Ngaouke.

Pernell McPhee: Most expected McPhee to take a backseat in the edge rusher rotation, especially after the addition of Ngaouke in the middle of the year. However, McPhee’s role remained steady and he was one of the most impactful defensive players on the roster in the postseason. In many ways, McPhee is the heart and soul of the locker room. If he’s open to playing again next season, another one-year deal seems inevitable.

L.J. Fort: An underrated playmaker on defense, Fort was pretty solid and consistent for the Ravens all season long. He’s sturdy in the middle of the field and is usually in the right place at the right time. Fort has his limitations but there’s little reason he shouldn’t be in the inside linebacker rotation again next season. He also played 262 snaps on special teams.

Patrick Queen: Queen’s rookie season was a bit of a rollercoaster. The highs include a knack for forcing turnovers, chasing ball-carriers in space, and pressuring the QB. The lows saw Queen get picked in coverage and miss a handful of tackles. It was definitely a year of growth for the former LSU product who should be better prepared next season after having a full offseason under his belt.

Malik Harrison: Harrison impressed early in the season but never truly carved out a consistent and sizeable role on defense. In spurts, he demonstrated upside in coverage and big-hitting ability coming downhill in the backfield. He played a lot on special teams but could be worthy of more snaps at linebacker next season.

Marlon Humphrey: Humphrey entered the 2020 campaign as the Ravens best defensive player and one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. That remains the same now, even if he didn’t earn an All-Pro or Pro Bowl nod. Humphrey is more important to the Ravens success than just about any other player on the roster who isn’t Lamar Jackson.

Marcus Peters: Peters had a few subpar performances this season and was flagged for holding and defensive pass interference on what seemed like far too many occasions. With that being said, though, his knack for forcing turnovers and pass deflections is better than just about any other defensive back in the league. The highlight of his season was obviously the game-sealing interception against the Titans in the Wild Card round.

Jimmy Smith: Injuries were again an issue for Smith, who suited up in 11 games. As per usual, his on-field presence was valuable and impressive. Smith was one the highest-graded cornerbacks in coverage for much of the season. He signed another one-year extension to return for the 2021 campaign. Smith can’t be relied upon to suit up for an entire season but can be counted on for strong play.

Chuck Clark: Clark was solid once again in 2020. He’s one of the biggest reasons that the Ravens defense did not miss a beat amidst the Earl Thomas fiasco. Clark is a leader on and off the field and had a handful of impressive moments in coverage towards the end of the season. He’ll never be elite athletically, but makes up for it with intangibles and consistency.

Anthony Levine Sr.: “Co Cap” is a fan favorite and valuable locker room presence as one of the most tenured players on the roster. He’s still an important special teams piece but played only 29 defensive snaps in 2020, his lowest mark since 2015. If Clark or Elliott were to go down, Levine can’t necessarily be relied upon as a suitable backup safety.

Jordan Richards: The Ravens re-signed Richards to a one-year deal last offseason. He played just 14 defensive snaps compared to 333 snaps on special teams. Like Levine, the Ravens may be in trouble if we thrust into a significant role at either safety position. The fact that he does bring value in one facet, though, makes his stock neutral.


Stock Down

The stock for these players is on the decline —

Justin Ellis: “Jelly” appeared in 13 games, starting three, on defense in 2020. Like Williams, he offers very little as a pass-rusher. Aside from eating up space and plugging gaps, it’s difficult to pinpoint where his value lies. It’d be surprising if Ellis was brought back with younger players at the defensive tackle spot vying for more reps.

Jaylon Ferguson: Hopes were high for a potential sophomore breakout for Jaylon Ferguson in Year 2, but they did not manifest into reality. Ferguson’s stat line in 2020 was quite similar to last season but expectations were greater, which equates to disappointment. He wound up being a healthy scratch for both playoff games.


Stock Up

The stock of these players is on the rise —

Derek Wolfe: Wolfe proved to be one of the more underrated acquisitions that Eric DeCosta made last offseason. He was a consistent source of energy, toughness, and run-stuffing on the defensive line. With Campbell and Williams both out for multiple games in the middle of the season, Wolfe played his tail off and helped anchor the front seven. He definitely deserves the consideration of a contract extension.

Justin Madubuike: Madubuike flew under the radar for most of the season but flashed tremendous upside in spurts. His role grew as the year progressed and he demonstrated strong athletic ability at the line of scrimmage. Madubuike finished the season with a PFF grade of 72.1 and should be looking at more defensive snaps several months from now.

Chris Board: John Harbaugh and the Ravens coaching staff have consistently sung the praises of Board over the past several seasons. Board has always been a special teams ace but finally flashed a bit defensively this season. Between Week 9 and Week 16, Board played 32+ defensive snaps four times. He took some snaps away from Queen on third down and showed sideline-to-sideline athleticism. Maybe he’s a “stock up” player because the bar was so low, but it was encouraging to see Board grow as an inside linebacker.

Anthony Averett: Averett has been a tantalizing player in his young career. His inconsistencies in small sample sizes were maddening at times prior to this season but he made a legitimate impact in 2020. With Tavon Young unavailable and Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters both missing games, Averett stepped up and played solid football. His performance ensures the Ravens have strong depth at cornerback.

DeShon Elliott: DeShon Elliott played all 16 games in 2020 for the first time in his career after suffering injuries in back-to-back seasons. He also became a full-time starter in place of Earl Thomas and the Ravens defense did not miss a beat amidst the change. Elliott won’t rank amongst the best safeties in the league but impressed quite a bit this season. He’s a hard hitter, flies to the ball, and rarely if ever got beat outright in coverage.