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The Ravens’ strength on defense in 2023 will be its spine

With questions on the edge and perimeter, positions up and down the middle will be heavily relied on.

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

For most of the past five-plus years, the Baltimore Ravens had constructed their defense from back to front, investing heavily in their secondary and especially at cornerback.

They had one of the league’s top tandems in three-time Pro Bowlers Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. Then, an injury-riddled 2021 season and a down year by Peters in 2022 resulted in the ninth-year veteran not being brought back this past offseason.

Prior to that, some of their top free agent acquisitions and biggest contracts handed out were to the likes of Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, and Tony Jefferson. They also spent a first-round pick on Humphrey in 2017.

During that time, they also elected not to pay top-dollar to any outside linebacker and instead have relied on drafting and developing at the position. They’ve also compensated by using exotic blitzes and pressures to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The Ravens are still investing heavily at safety. Seventh-year veteran defensive back Marcus Williams was their prized free agent addition last offseason and second-year pro Kyle Hamilton, who they selected in the first round of the 2022 draft, is slated to be a full-time starter this fall.

Over the past two years, the largest deals that they’ve given out to is to re-sign their own free agents and recently the contract for three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Much of their capital has been spent on bolstering the spine of their defense, which will most likely be their strength during the 2023 season.

Given some of the question marks and unproven commodities at both cornerback and outside linebacker, the Ravens will lean on their players who roam the middle of all three levels to elevate the defense.

On the interior of their defensive line, they brought back hulking nose tackle Michael Pierce, re-signed defensive end Brent Urban twice and drafted Travis Jones in the third round last year. They signed defensive tackle Broderick Washington to an extension last month and his fellow fourth-year pro, Justin Madubuike, is primed to break out in a contract year.

They acquired All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith via a midseason trade last year. They made him the highest-paid player at his position last December after seeing how immensely transformative his presence was on the unit as a whole. He formed arguably the best off-ball linebacker tandem in the league with former first-rounder Patrick Queen down the stretch and the two of them intend to prove they’re deserving of that mantle this season.

Humphrey is currently recovering from having foot surgery and no definitive replacement for Peters at the other starting corner spot has been declared (according to the first official depth chart. Therefore, the aforementioned new starting safety duo of Williams and Hamilton will be counted on to provide a greater playmaking presence in the backend.

The Ravens have more than just a strong foundation with playmakers at every level on the defensive side of the ball — they have the potential to be one of the league’s best units. If that comes to fruition, it will more than likely be because of how well the players that make up their spine perform. Their ability to play at a high level will put their outside corners and edge defenders in advantageous positions to prove the doubters wrong.