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Hybrid pass rushers the Ravens could target after the first round

With so much depth and diversity at pass rusher in this year’s class, the Ravens can find quality players to address one of their top needs throughout the draft.

NCAA Football: Duke at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s draft class has no consensus top edge rusher that is head and shoulders above the rest like Chase Young, Nick Bosa, or Myles Garrett. Instead, it is loaded with talented interior and edge rushers and even some that can do both.

Since there is such a surplus and variety, teams will be able to find immediate starters or at least rotational players to fill their pass rush needs and improve their depth throughout the draft.

The Baltimore Ravens are one of the many teams that need to replenish their pass rush this offseason since they currently have five of their six edge defenders slated to become unrestricted free agents in March.

The Ravens value versatility among all their players but especially on defense where Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale is arguably the best in the league at conjuring up creatively deceptive pressures and coverages to confuse opposing quarterbacks.

One of the main ingredients in the Ravens’ defensive fronts, especially since Martindale was promoted in 2018, is to move around players to generate pressure from both on the edge as well as between the tackles.

Players such as Za’Darius Smith, Pernell McPhee, and most recently to a limited yet still potent degree Jihad Ward, have shined and been extremely disruptive situational pass rushers with the Ravens.

Smith priced himself out of Baltimore following a breakout year in 2018 and has emerged as one of the dominant defenders in the league during his first two seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

McPhee has had moments during his second stint with the team where he has looked like his vintage self that broke the bank when he broke out in 2014. Ward has been a disruptive interior pass rush presence in a rotational role and has been stout on the edge as well when he’s been active over the last two seasons. Both are pending free agents.

Hybrid pass rushers for some reason beyond my comprehension are not valued as high as those that primarily rush the passer up the middle or off the edge even though they can consistently do both.

Their unique blend of size and athleticism allows them to regularly win in one-on-one situations and make them matchup up nightmares for offensive linemen, especially when they lineup on the inside at three-technique or stand-up over the center in a rover role.

The top player that fits the hybrid build and versatile playing style is Michigan’s Kwity Paye. He is considered a near-lock to go in the first round and is currently being projected to go as high as the top-15 selections.

While Paye might be long gone by the time the Ravens are on the clock on the opening night of the draft, there are still a handful of promising prospects that will be available on the second and third day of the draft that could come in and excel in a hybrid pass rusher role.

Quincy Roche, Miami

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 30 Senior Bowl Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Temple transfer capitalized on the opt-out of Gregory Rousseau in his lone season with the Hurricanes and formed a fearsome tandem with presumptive first-round pick Jaelen Phillips. He had only 4.5 sacks in 2020 after recording a career-high 13 in 2019 with the Owls but was still a mainstay in opposing backfields last fall and finished his collegiate career with 30.5 sacks in 45 games.

He greatly improved his draft stock with a strong week of practice and solid performance in the Reese’s Senior Bowl game last month. Roche dominated in one-on-one drills down in Mobile and is more technically sound than many of the edge rushers that will be taken before him.

At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Roche can come crashing off the edge as a standup outside linebacker or with his hand in the dirt. His quickness as a looper on twists and stunts can provide immediate pressure on opposing passers.

He reads and plays the run well, and can consistently set the edge. Whether he is rushing the quarterback or defending the run, Roche sheds blocks well and never gets too far upfield to the point where he is out of position to make a play at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Roche makes up for his lack of ideal arm length and a wide wingspan by using his violent hands that are just as fast as they are powerful. He is built like a 3-4 rush linebacker and has great flexibility to get around the edge but is athletic and twitchy enough to win consistently on the inside as well.

He is projected to be a day two pick that could come off the board anywhere from the early second to mid-third round but likely won’t make it out of the top 80 selections. If drafted by the Ravens, he’d be a great rotational edge player, not just a situational pass rusher.

Cameron Sample, Tulane

Memphis v Tulane Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The former member of the Green Wave is the heaviest prospect on the list at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds but is just as nimble and explosive as the rest. His college game tape and performance at the Senior Bowl prove it.

Both he and Roche greatly improved their draft stock with impressive weeks of practice down in Mobile, Alabama that held extra importance this year with no scouting combine due to COVID.

However, Sample took it a step further and carried over that dominance into the All-Star game where he was named Defensive MVP after recording a game-high seven total tackles, a half-sack, and 0.5 tackle for loss.

His size and dimensions make him look like a prototypical 4-3 defensive end but his athletic ability, get off and violent hands make him a perfect candidate to play the hybrid role that Ward has filled over the last two years.

In college, Sample’s playing time and production increased each year as his role on defense expanded to playing both defensive end as well as defensive tackle. He logged 10.5 sacks in four years including a career-high five in his senior campaign.

His stocky build will help him gain leverage when going up against blockers that don’t play with good bend in their hips. While he’s more than capable of making an impact on the edge, he’d be best-suited lining up on the inside between A or B gaps, over guards, or centers in sub/NASCAR packages.

He’s projected to be an early day three pick but could go as high as the mid to late portion of the third round. If drafted by the Ravens, he’d likely spend a lot of time lined up on the inside as a situational pass rusher to start his career.

Rashad Weaver, Pittsburgh

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 30 Senior Bowl Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Pitt Panther made a triumphant return from a torn ACL that cost him his 2019 season. He posted a strong senior campaign, recording career highs in sacks (7.5) forced fumbles (three) and tied a career-best in tackles for loss (14) in just nine games.

He also stood out at the Senior Bowl and improved his draft stock at the showcase event. While he’s not as freakishly athletic or explosive as his rushing mate at Pitt, Patrick Jones, he was the more impressive and consistent of the two down in Mobile, Alabama.

Weaver is the tallest prospect on this list at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds. He possesses great length, fast and heavy hands, and good lateral agility that he uses to gain leverage when playing both the run and the pass.

His active hands combined with his length and 82-inch wingspan help him penetrate as a pass rusher and disengage from blockers as a run defender. He plays with a lot of energy and a high motor that doesn’t let up and makes up for some of his athletic limitations.

Weaver is projected to come off the board in the second round and no later than the early third. If drafted by the Ravens he has the size and versatility to play inside as a five-technique defensive end or on the edge as rotational RUSH outside linebacker.

Chris Rumph II, Duke

Georgia Tech v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The former Blue Devil is the lightest player on this list at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds and the only one that didn’t attend the Senior Bowl since he declared for the draft after his junior season, but he is just as versatile as the rest in his own unique way.

In college, Rumph lined up on the edge with his hand in the dirt a lot of the time. He also excelled in a rover role on Duke’s defense where he roamed the line of scrimmage as a blitzing stand up linebacker that got to pick and choose which gap attack.

The Ravens utilized Smith similarly during his breakout season in 2018 as a member of a heavy rotation. Rumph could shine just as bright if he were selected by the Ravens. Like Smith, he is too quick and agile for interior linemen to put a clean block on and also has the strength to overwhelm them with speed to power rushes.

He is explosive off the edge as well and has great bend to get underneath and around tackles. His dip-and-rip move is deadly. Rumph is sound in his technique as a processor, tackler and pass rusher.

Rumph’s athleticism and versatility make him a perfect fit as a situational pass rusher and interior gap blitzer in the Ravens’ hybrid front. While there isn’t enough tape on him to properly discern if he’ll be able to become an adequate dropper into coverage, his frame and flexibility suggest it wouldn’t be too difficult of s skill for him to develop in the future.

His lean frame and the fact that he doesn’t fit every NFL defense may leave him off of some teams’ board entirely. Still, Rumph is still projected to be selected on day two or early day three at the latest.