In his postgame press conference following the Ravens’ 20-3 win over the Panthers on Saturday night, Head Coach John Harbaugh said that the knee injury suffered by veteran linebacker L.J. Fort’s in the first half “does not look good”.
After receiving an MRI, that worst possible outcome was confirmed on Sunday when it was revealed that Fort had suffered a torn ACL. He will be placed on injured reserve and miss the entire 2021 season after undergoing surgery once the inflammation in his injured knee subsides.
#Ravens LB L.J. Fort suffered a torn ACL Saturday against the Panthers, per source. Starting linebacker gets his first major injury of a nine-year career. Will wait for swelling to subside before surgery coming.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 22, 2021
This is the first major injury of Fort’s nine-year career and the first season-ending injury to a Ravens player that is expected to be a starter, or at least featured in a heavy rotational role. It also opens the door for 2020 undrafted free agent Kristian Welch to make the roster as the fourth inside linebacker.
I doubt the team would turn to the veteran free agent market to attempt to fill the void left by Fort, outside of signing a camp body to take some of his reps in practice and provide depth in the preseason finale against the Washington Football Team next week.
As far as what this development means for the Ravens defense, it essentially cements 2020 third-round pick Malik Harrison as the starting WILL/weakside inside linebacker next to 2020 first-round pick Patrick Queen, who is the starting MIKE.
Fort was their best-proven coverage linebacker last season. Even though Queen has shown improved instincts and ability in coverage, the Ravens will likely return to running more of the DIME package on defense, where they suddenly appear to have the safety depth to properly run it as opposed to last season.
An uptick in Chris Board’s playing time could be a possibility as well in a similar rotational on defense. He’ll also likely be an even bigger factor on special teams since Fort was a core member in that phase as well.