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Ravens off-ball linebackers named a Top 10 defensive position group in the NFL

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After trading for Roquan Smith at the 2022 trade deadline, he and Patrick Queen quickly formed a high-performing linebacker tandem for the Baltimore Ravens. Smith’s impressive play in a short stint with the Ravens last season earned him a record-breaking contract extension from Baltimore in March.

The Ravens did not pick up Queen’s fifth-year contract option this offseason and then drafted a linebacker in the third round, Trenton Simpson. While this sparked immediate trade speculation, the dust has since settled and it appears almost certain that Queen will be with the team in 2023 — and possibly beyond.

Queen, whose performance was already improving prior to the Ravens’ acquisition of Smith, took his game to another level in the second half of last season. Now, him and Smith have quickly developed a national reputation for being a high-end duo.

CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr recently ranked the NFL’s Top 10 defensive position groups across the league. He listed the Ravens’ off-ball linebacker corps at No. 3, trailing only the San Francisco 49ers’ interior defenders and the Philadelphia Eagles’ edge rushers.

Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen have played just nine games together and have already emerged as the best off-ball linebacker duo in the league,” Kerr wrote. “Smith made an instant impact in the Ravens defense . . . finishing with 169 tackles, 4.5 sacks, three interceptions and six passes defended with the Ravens and Chicago Bears.”

Kerr noted that Smith, who earned a first-team All-Pro selection, joined Patrick Willis as the only other player to record 150 tackles, four sacks and three or more interceptions in a single season.

He also highlighted how Queen’s statistical production since entering the league puts him in exclusive territory. Along with Smith and Bobby Wagner, Queen is the only player to have at least 300 tackles, 10 sacks, and three interceptions since 2020.

“In coverage, opposing quarterbacks targeting Smith allowed a 69.9 passer rating while Queen allowed a 73.1 rating. The duo combined for five interceptions and allowed three touchdowns,” Kerr also wrote. “A full season of Smith and Queen could spell trouble for opposing offenses — and gives Baltimore an excellent opportunity to get to the Super Bowl.”

The Ravens have a history of valuing high-end linebacker play. While they cycled through some undrafted or journeymen-type veterans prior to last year, they’re clearly placing a premium on the position now. As Kerr wrote, the dynamic of Smith and Queen, as it did last season, can elevate the Ravens’ defense and potentially boost their Super Bowl hopes.

Baltimore’s off-ball linebacker group as a whole could exceed expectations even further if rookie Trenton Simpson could make an immediate impact this upcoming season. It will be interesting to see how Simpson is deployed and what his role is with Smith and Queen on the depth chart.