The Ravens finished 2019 with the best record in football led by NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who quarterbacked the team to the more prolific offense in the league.
While Jackson and the offense deserve every bit of praise it has rightfully earned, lost in the growth of Baltimore last season was how the defense developed and improved.
After allowing an average of 396 yards and 25 points per game across the first four contests, the Ravens’ defense tightened up and allowed an average of 269 yards per game and just 15 points for the rest of the regular season.
In the Ravens’ first year since 2014 without star linebacker C.J. Mosley, the defense struggled early on but general manager Eric DeCosta did a masterful job finding personnel upgrades in linebackers L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes in addition to acquiring cornerback Marcus Peters. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale did a wonderful job acclimating those new pieces and the proof is in the pudding.
Bynes and Fort were part of the mix for the last 12 games of the year and Peters for the final 10, right where the unit began to find its stride.
Baltimore is primed to make a deep postseason run in 2020 and unlike last season, DeCosta found help for the defense long before the season kicks off. The Ravens landed Calais Campbell via trade and signed Derek Wolfe in free agency before adding a host of defensive talent in the draft. Among Baltimore’s top-100 picks, DeCosta drafted linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in addition to defensive tackle Justin Madubuike.
Queen and Harrison have the potential to become a dynamic duo on the second level of the Ravens’ defense. Both were ranked among my top-four linebackers in the class and have complementary skill sets that mesh perfectly with Martindale’s aggressive scheme.
In typical Ravens’ fashion, with the Queen pick in the first round, Baltimore let other teams draft lesser prospects and allowed the talent to fall to them. Queen is a dream fit for the Ravens aggressive, blitz-heavy defense. Baltimore blitzed on 54.9% of the passing plays it faced in 2019, the next highest was Tampa Bay at 43.4% and no other team was about 40%. Queen has explosive speed and range with fluid hips and tremendous coverage instincts. Whether it’s sending him through a gap on a blitz or taking advantage of his ability to cover ground behind the blitz, Queen has the perfect skill set to thrive in Baltimore. He's physical and urgent, profiling as an every-down defender.
Harrison is a good athlete but not quite the same caliber as Queen. Harrison’s 6-foot-3, 247-pound frame brings an exciting complementary skill set to the table in terms of his overall versatility and ability to play into the line of scrimmage. Harrison isn’t as explosive as Queen, but he can take on contact, blitz, defend short zones and is a strong tackler. He brings the thump that pairs wonderfully with Queen’s quickness.
Like Queen, Harrison brings an every-down skill set to the table and the duo is more than capable of being the two linebackers on the field in the nickel defense.
Given the way NFL offenses are attacking defenses with pace and space, featuring spread concepts, misdirection, run-pass options, zone read and heavy doses of play action, the linebacker position has become more important than ever. Gone are the days of burly run defenders that can play in space manning the second level of NFL defenses. Athleticism, versatility, coverage skills and the ability to attack downhill are required traits for linebackers or today’s offenses will exploit those deficiencies.
Queen and Harrison have the ability to man the second level in Baltimore for years to come and develop into one of the top pairings in the league.
- May 16, 2022
- May 16, 2022