Heading into the 2021 season the Baltimore Ravens would’ve likely been projected to receive their best bang for their buck from the running back position. Both J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill are still on their rookie contracts and neither were first-round picks in their respective drafts. Gus Edwards signed a two-year extension worth $10 million in early July, nowhere near the top of the market rate at the position.
All that changed when all three were lost for the year due to injury within 12 days of each other prior to the onset of the regular season. As injuries continued to mount for the Ravens, it was fair to wonder where they would get the most value relative to what they were spending on a specific position group considering they had veteran players making double figures at several positions on both sides of the ball.
Through their first 11 games of the season, the answer is abundantly clear and shouldn’t be all that surprising. After letting Pro Bowl edge defenders Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk in free agency to sign lucrative deals elsewhere, many wondered if and how the Ravens were going to be able to generate a consistent pass rush to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
However, they currently sit atop the AFC conference standings and lead their division at 8-3. Their inexpensive revamped outside linebacker depth chart has been one of the main catalysts for their success thus far. While both Judon and Ngakoue have base salaries of just $1 million in the first year of their new deals, they carry cap hits of $6.32 and $5 million respectively, whereas the combined cap hit of their top three edge defenders in 2021 is just $7.137 million with a combined base salary of $2.735 million.
Here’s a breakdown of their tremendous contributions at an even greater value:
The 2017 second-round pick rebounded from being prematurely labeled a bust early in his career to become arguably the most well-rounded and versatile edge defender in the game and certainly the best coverage 3-4 outside linebacker in the league. The Ravens essentially had to choose between keeping Bowser or Judon this offseason and opted to keep the better scheme fit with upside at a significantly discounted rate to what it would’ve cost to keep the two-time Pro Bowler in town.
Judon is enjoying his most productive season to date in terms of sack totals with a career-high 11.5 through 12 games. However, Bowser has proven to not only be well worth the investment but he is looking like a steal with a 2021 base salary of $1 million and a cap hit of just $3 million. He currently leads the team in sacks with 5.5, is tied for second in tackles for loss (6) and quarterback hits (13). Bowser has been playing his best as of late over the last month and has made game-sealing defensive stops in both of the Ravens’ wins the past two weeks.
Tyus Bowser is VERSATILE. Not many OLBs can play great run defense one play, then drop back in blanket coverage against WR Landry or TE Njoku, then sack a QB.— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) November 29, 2021
Bowser is also a CLOSER. He closed out the last 2 Ravens games in versatile fashion (one sack, the other in coverage). pic.twitter.com/XsSZTKekR8
It is a rare occurrence when a team can acquire the services of a future Hall of Famer at any position that is past their prime yet can still be productive for pennies on the dollar. It is even rarer for a player of that caliber to be available in early August but that was exactly the case when the Ravens signed Houston to an incredibly inexpensive one-year contract.
The 11-year veteran has been an invaluable asset on and off the field since joining the team. He consistently generates pressure off the edge and is stout at setting it against the run but has had perhaps his most profound impact as a mentor to young defenders, particularly in the trenches.
Houston has recorded four sacks, leads the team in quarterback hits with 16, has logged 22 pressures, and is only making a base salary of $1.075 million with a cap hit of just $2.075 million. He turned down more money from the Pittsburgh Steelers to come to Baltimore because he wanted to play for a true contender and that is coming to fruition thanks in no small part to his own contributions.
Highest-graded #Ravens through 11 games (min. 275 snaps):— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) November 30, 2021
1️⃣ Mark Andrews, TE- 90.3
2️⃣ Calais Campbell, DI- 86.6
T-3️⃣ Tyus Bowser, EDGE- 78.3
T-3️⃣ Justin Houston, EDGE- 78.3
5️⃣Marquise Brown, WR- 75.9 pic.twitter.com/1cnqHN1fef
The best bargain of the bunch by far has been the first-round rookie who had no sacks in his final season at Penn State. He had just seven sacks in his first two collegiate seasons combined but already has five as he has quickly established himself as one of the ascending young edge talents in the league through the first 11 games of his professional career.
Oweh is making only $660,000 in base salary with a cap hit of only $2.062 million this year but his consistent and clutch playmaking ability in the team’s biggest games this season has been priceless. In addition to being second on the team in sacks, he leads the team in forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2), is tied with Bowser for second in quarterback hits (13), and ranks in the top 20 among all players in the league at any position in pressures.