The Baltimore Ravens edge defender depth chart will look different this fall compared to how it did at the end of their 2020 campaign. Two-time Pro Bowler Matthew Judon signed a lucrative deal with the New England Patriots, Pro Bowl pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue did the same with the Las Vegas Raiders and Jihad Ward followed former Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen to Jacksonville.
After watching their top two outside linebackers sign elsewhere on the first two days of free agency, the Baltimore Ravens quickly turned their attention towards making sure that they didn’t lose Tyus Bowser too.
The fourth-year pro tested the waters to gauge his market and ultimately decided not to roll the dice on the uncertain unrestricted free agency before inking a four-year deal worth $22 million.
“I thought it was important for me to come back this year,” Bowser said. “With free agency, you just never know what happens, what direction they want to go, what guys they want to bring in…Fortunately we were able to work it out. It’s nice to be back for another four years.”
He was originally drafted by the Ravens in the second round of the 2017 draft with the 47th overall pick out of Houston. At the time, the pick was questioned and criticized because Bowser didn’t put up gaudy sack totals in college for the Cougars and there were several viable wide receivers still on the board that went on to become playmakers and Pro Bowlers for their teams.
While Bowser had a slow start to his career trying to find his footing and carve out a role on the Ravens’ defense, he has blossomed into one the most complete and dynamic 3-4 outside linebackers over the last two seasons.
He didn’t eclipse or even match his career-high single-season sack total of five from 2019 in the final year of his contract this past season with just two. However, he did record a career-high 14 quarterback hits and emerged as the Ravens’ best coverage linebacker among both the inside and outside corps.
In 2020, Bowser allowed a career-low opposing passer rating of 42.2 and recorded career highs in both interceptions (3) and pass breakups (5). He was pleased with his performance in coverage last year but believes improving his sack totals will help him elevate his game even more.
“I showed that I can drop in coverage, catch the ball, and I was able to get two sacks at the beginning of the year, but after that, I was kind of dry. I was able to get to the quarterback – pressures, things like that – but what actually goes in the stat book is getting that quarterback on the ground while he has the ball.”
His ability to move in space and make plays on the ball, set a strong edge and play the run, generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks off the edge as well as on stunts, twists and off-ball blitzes make him the ideal SAM linebacker in Defensive Coordinator Don Wink Martindale’s hybrid scheme.
“With the defense that we had, just the scheme, I fit in so well with that defense. Just the culture guys, the family atmosphere with that organization, I wanted to stay and be with it.”
He’s been able to showcase his versatility and make impactful plays despite playing in a rotational role for the vast majority of his career with only two starts in 67 career games including the playoffs. With Judon now in New England, Bowser is now expected to ascend to full-time starter status since he is the only viable option at SAM currently on the roster ahead of the draft.
His new contract has the potential to reach a max value of $27 million if undisclosed incentives are met. While specifics of those pay escalators aren’t known, he is poised to put up even better numbers across the board and truly transcend with a significantly increased workload.
Bowser is built and possesses all of the diverse traits needed for a defender to thrive in today’s modern NFL. The game is increasingly moving more towards spread and air raid passing attacks and away from relying on the ground game as the foundation of their offensive approach—the Ravens and Patriots being the rare exceptions.
That means athletic linebackers like Bowser are becoming more prevalent and a necessity on defense. One could make the argument that he is even better suited to excel moving forward than even Judon or Ngakoue with all that he brings to the table due to his complete skill set.
The fact that he can still play the run well, rush the passer effectively, stay stride for stride and even blanket tight ends and running backs in coverage, spy quarterbacks to dissuade them from leaving the pocket and even read their eyes to break up or intercept intended passes make him indispensable to Martindale’s unit.
Bowser is the ideal archetype for what the Ravens and other teams should look for and value more from here on out because he could start and standout as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme just as well as he does in a 3-4.
Sacks are a stat that players at his position in Baltimore’s defense have historically been measured by but are no longer the best indicator of success or impact. An interception is more impactful than a sack more times than not because it results in an immediate change of possession whereas a sack doesn’t always end in a forced fumble.
Sometimes a sack can result in a minimal loss on the play that means that the opposing team can still keep their offense on the field and go for it depending on the situation or at least attempt to flip the field and pin the opposition back deep in their own territory.
I provided that context not to undermine or devalue the significance or importance of getting sacks, but instead, just further emphasis that outside linebackers like Bowser, who may never average or even reach double-digit sacks on a consistent basis, can still be a disruptive as those that do, if not even more.
The Ravens will likely add another player to the still thin position group before the draft and most certainly will draft one or two. However, I truly believe that the best of Tyus Bowser is yet to come and 2021 will be the beginning of a bright future for the ascending versatile defender. I definitely think he’ll at least match his career-high single-season sack mark and may even get to double digits because he is an every-down player now.