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Could Jaylon Ferguson be the Ravens’ next late bloomer at outside linebacker?

The former third-round pick is heading into the final year of his rookie contract with a lot to prove.

Minnesota Vikings v Baltimore Ravens

At the onset of the 2022 offseason, Baltimore Ravens edge defender Jaylon Ferguson was considered widely by many as a player the team could potentially move on from. Following another lackluster season in which he didn’t record a single sack and was only active for 10 games, it was completely understandable.

However, given the current state of the roster and the outside linebacker room in particular, his odds of making the team are much higher than they were when the 2021 season ended. Not just that, but also potentially having a prominent role on defense.

Even though the Ravens used the veteran tender on former four-time Pro Bowler Justin Houston, he remains unsigned and there haven’t been any new developments on that front. They also have a pair of outside linebackers recovering from torn Achilles injuries suffered in the calendar year in Tyus Bowser and rookie David Ojabo.

Bowser has a chance to return during the first half of the 2022 season because he suffered his injury in early January. Ojabo, though, will likely miss most of, if not the entirety of his first season since he tore his more recently — at his pro day in March.

Not including undrafted rookies, who are complete unknowns and longshots to make the roster, the Ravens only have four healthy edge defenders currently slated to start the season. The shortlist includes Ferguson heading into his fourth year, Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes heading into their second years, and five-year veteran Vince Biegel on a one-year minimum deal.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Ferguson will have ample opportunity to blossom and live up to the “sack daddy” nickname he earned in college — where he broke Terrell Suggs’ career sack record. Since being drafted by the Ravens in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft at No. 85 overall, the Louisiana Tech product has recorded just 4.5 sacks in 39 games over three seasons (including the postseason).

Ferguson has never recorded more than 2.5 sacks or 13 pressures in a single season and he set those career-highs as a rookie. While he has shown vast improvement as an edge setter in the run game on early downs, Ferguson has left much to be desired in his development as a pass rusher.

With the roster as currently constructed, Ferguson is the most likely candidate to be the starting RUSH outside linebacker to begin the season. Therefore, he should have ample opportunity to consistently get after opposing quarterbacks. Mike Macdonald, the Ravens’ first-year defensive coordinator, might try to platoon Oweh and Hayes at the SAM spot until Bowser gets back. Malik Harrison has been discussed as an option at outside linebacker over the past year and this offseason, also.

Over the last decade, the Ravens have a rich history of drafting and developing edge rushers that breakout late in their rookie deals. Then, they go on to break the bank in unrestricted free agency, netting the team a nice compensatory in return the following year. Players like Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee, Za’Darius Smith, and Matthew Judon made the most of their final season(s) in Baltimore and parlayed their breakout campaigns into lucrative deals elsewhere on the open market.

Expecting Ferguson to explode in his fourth year and record double-digit sacks would be quite a bold prediction given the lack of consistent flashes he has shown. However, if he were to surpass his previous statistical totals and post career-highs in 2022, Ferguson could still earn himself a nice second contract. He could also get a fresh start with a new team, in a scheme that he is better suited for.

While reports from OTAs are that he has slimmed down, Ferguson was always a bit of an awkward fit in the Ravens’ hybrid 3-4 scheme and is built more in the mold of a 4-3 defensive end. So, perhaps a season with five to seven sacks could net him a solid payday from the likes of the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, or New York Jets — who love bringing former Ravens’ castoffs and mid-level role players.