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Is Justin Madubuike the Ravens’ quietest 2022 breakout candidate?

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2021 season, expectations were quite high for then-rising second-year defensive lineman Justin Madubuike. After showing some flashes in his rookie season and impressing last summer, many billed Madubuike a true candidate for a breakout sophomore campaign.

With Derek Wolfe on the shelf for the entirety of last year, and both Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams missing some time also, Madubuike’s playing time increased significantly. He started 11 games and played 484 defensive snaps, which were much greater than the three starts and 260 snaps he saw in 2020.

Despite this increased workload, Madubuike did not make the huge statistical leap many had anticipated. He had just one more sack and three more QB hits in 2021 than he did in 2020, as well as 17 more combined tackles. His numbers increased across the board, just not to the extent you might expect given how much more he was on the field.

Madubuike did not have a poor season by any stretch, just maybe a quieter one than a lot of people expected. Now, though, heading into the 2022 season — the third of his career — could Madubuike break through the way some envisioned he would last year?

The hype train is not quite steaming as much as it was around this time last offseason, which may ultimately be a good thing.

The Ravens’ defensive line room will look a bit different next season. Wolfe and Brandon Williams are out of the picture, and the team added a few new (but familiar) faces in Michael Pierce and Brent Urban. They also selected Travis Jones with a third-round pick in the draft, giving the Ravens a crowded front-seven core with Calais Campbell coming back also.

With this degree of turnover at the position group, as well as some chatter about potential breakout candidates elsewhere on the roster (*cough cough* Rashod Bateman), Madubuike is flying a bit under the radar. The former Texas A&M product is set up nicely for success.

Year 3 is right around the time a lot of players in the NFL make “the leap”, or at least significant improvement building off their first two career seasons. Madubuike’s talent level, as well as the situation he’s in, suggest he could be ready to pop off. Returning Campbell, replacing Williams with Pierce, and adding Urban and Jones to the mix could aid Madubuike’s success.

We saw last season that Campbell can still command double teams and Pierce probably brings a bit more juice as a pass-rusher than Williams had. Madubike will surely get plenty of 1-on-1 opportunities against opposing guards and tackles, and he often has an athletic advantage over many of them.

If he can become more consistent on a down-by-down, game-by-game basis, a career-best season in 2022 is easily within the cards for Madubuike. The Ravens badly need some pass rush on the interior and aside from Campbell, Madubuike may be the team’s best player in this department.

In 2021, having played 15 games and starting 11, Madubuike finished the season with 36 combined tackles, two sacks, five quarterback hits and seven pressures. How much do you think he can build upon these numbers this upcoming season?

Chime in below with your thoughts and join the conversation on a potential Madubuike breakout year.