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Ravens 2021 Position Review: Defensive Line

The unit led the charge for the league’s top ranked run defense but didn’t generate consistent interior pressure.

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

After a turbulent 2021 season that was ravaged and ultimately derailed by injuries, the Baltimore Ravens are fully focused on moving forward. Before we completely turn the page to the 2022 offseason, let’s look back at the overall performance of their defensive line position group from this last year.

DE Calais Campbell

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

2021 stats: 15 games, 14 starts, 49 total tackles, five tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 16 pressures, one fumble recovery, and one pass deflection.

Despite recording his lowest sack total since his rookie year in 2008 and having his consecutive Pro Bowl season streak snapped, the 14-year veteran still played at an extremely high level in 2021. Campbell was the Ravens’ highest-graded defender according to Pro Football Focus with an 80.8 overall grade. He was an elite run defender who absolutely dominated at the point of attack, shed blockers as if they were paperweights, and gobbled up ball carriers. If the Ravens are able to bring him back after he publicly announced that he doesn’t plan on retiring, he’d be the unquestioned leader of the defense as a whole in 2022 and poised for a title run on his last ride.

DT Justin Madubuike

Baltimore Ravens v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

2021 stats: 15 games, 11 starts, 36 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks, five quarterback hits, seven pressures, and two pass deflections.

Even though the 2020 third-round pick didn’t take the giant leap that many projected and expected in year two, he still made significant strides. He didn’t dominate week in and week out like Campbell but he did have several stretches in which he consistently got penetration and made plays in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. Madubuike has the potential to be the face and future stalwart in the Ravens’ defensive trenches even if they sign a notable free agent or draft one in the first two rounds.

NT Brandon Williams

NFL: OCT 11 Colts at Ravens Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2021 stats: 13 games, 13 starts, 35 total tackles, four tackles for loss, one quarterback hit, three pressures, one fumble recovery, and three pass deflections.

After a rough start to the season due to an injury that caused him to miss four games including three straight after the bye week, the veteran run-stopping extraordinaire returned to form in the second half of the season. His best game of the season came in Week 12 against the Pittsburgh Steelers where he led the team with 11 tackles. The week before, he was literally the biggest reason for the defense’s dominant effort that held the top-ranked rushing offense of the Cleveland Browns to just 40 yards.

As much of a leader and elite early-down run defender as Williams has been during his tenure with the team, it is time for the team to move in a new and younger direction with the interior of their defensive line. Unless he is willing to return on a very team-friendly short-term deal, he likely won’t be back in 2022.

DT Broderick Washington

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

2021 stats: 14 games, two starts, 16 total tackles, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and three pressures.

The 2020 fifth-round pick showed arguably the most improvement of all the Ravens’ second-year players. His stats weren’t eye-popping by any means but consistently flashed his disruptive potential in an increased yet still limited role after a quiet rookie season. Washington showed that he could be stout against the run all year and applied more interior pressure down the stretch. His ability to raise his level of play will likely lead to an even larger rotational role heading into year three, even if the team brings in more young talent via the draft or signs a notable free agent.

NT Justin Ellis

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

2021 stats: 17 games, five starts, 18 total tackles, one quarterback hit, and four pressures.

With Derek Wolfe out for the entire season, the eight-year veteran assumed the role as the unit’s ironman as he was the only one that appeared in every game. His ability to step up and seamlessly fill in at nose tackle in the games that Williams was hurt or not fully healthy helped the defense maintain their dominance against the run. Ellis showed more pass rush prowess at times than he had in the previous two seasons but it still wasn’t consistent enough to make him a priority to re-sign when the new league year begins.

NT Isaiah Mack

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

2021 stats: Two games, three total tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, one quarterback hit, and one pressure.

The third-year pro only appeared in a pair of games as a Ravens but he flashed enough in those two contests that one could argue he deserved to be promoted from the practice squad to the active roster and given a regular rotational role. While he is slightly undersized for a traditional two-gap gobbling nose tackle, he offers more upside as an interior pass rusher, which is likely one of the main reasons why the Ravens signed him to a reserve futures contract immediately after the season ended.