Position Roll Caw: Linebackers

Position Roll Caw is a weekly series that takes an in-depth look at each Position Rooms in the 2018 Baltimore Ravens leading up to Training Camp.  We look at the players, the history, and the expectations for each group.

 

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

 

THE PLAYERS:

 

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns r292804_576x324_16-9 920x1240

Albert McClellan, LB, 8th Year Veteran, Marshall University – McClellan is the classic Ozzie Newsome UDFA story.  Originally a standout for his Special Teams ability, McClellan slowly earned a role in the defensive rotation as a “jack of all trades” Linebacker who can play just about every position.  He’s had opportunities to earn the starting job next to Mosley the last few years but was sidelined by injury last year during camp.  He has 166 career tackles, 3 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles.

 

Matt Judon, OLB, 3rd Year Veteran, Grand Valley State – Judon was a late round, small school pass rusher drafted in 2016, but burst onto the scene with a strong preseason in 2016.  He followed it up with a breakout 2017, finishing 2nd on the team in sacks with 8, to go along with 2 forced fumbles and 50 tackles.

 

Tyus Bowser, OLB, 2nd Year Veteran, University of Houston – Bowser was a 2nd round draft pick in 2017, and was believed to be a player who could play at either Inside or Outside Linebacker.  The Ravens gave him some early opportunities in 2017 and he was named Defensive Rookie of the Week in Week 2 after notching his first sack and a 27 yard interception.  As the year went on, however, he struggled to make consistent plays and finished with 7 tackles and 3 sacks for the season.

 

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens 16_zsmith_news a388819abb6d7d357129bf0a355c0c83

 

Terrell Suggs, OLB, 16th Year Veteran, Arizona State University – After Ray Lewis retired, Terrell Suggs took on the mantle as captain of the Ravens, taking Ray’s long time spot breaking the team huddle pre-game.  The long time pass rush specialist hasn’t let age slow him down, as he finished with 11 sacks in 2017, along with 4 forced fumbles.  He is almost certainly destined for Canton and remains the spiritual leader of the Ravens defense.

 

Za’Darius Smith, OLB, 4th Year Veteran, University of Kentucky – Smith had a strong rookie season in 2015 as a 4th round draft pick, racking up 5.5 sacks.  His 2016, however, was disappointing, only posting 10 tackles and 1 sack.  He was able to bounce back a little in 2017, recording 15 tackles and 3 sacks while earning a spot on the defense roughly 49% of the snaps.  He has to remain competitive as younger draft picks file in behind him in Williams and Bowser.

 

Tim Williams, OLB, 2nd Year Veteran, University of Alabama – Williams was an intriguing pick in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft.  He was viewed as a stronger pass rusher than 2017 2nd round pick Tyus Bowser, and some even thought he had 1st round talent.  That said, Williams only got on the field for 125 snaps, about 11% of the plays on defense.  He finished with just 5 tackles, no sacks.

 

cj-mosley-d93f9573bf7ac84a kennyyoung alvinjones

CJ Mosley, ILB, 5th Year Veteran, University of Alabama – Going into a contract year, Mosley is looking to elevate his game beyond a “solid” MLB to become a Top 5 MLB to earn a big money contract.  He led the defense in snaps in 2014 and 2015, but was 4th in 2016 and 3rd in 2017.  He has 328 tackles, 8 sacks, 8 interceptions, and 6 forced fumbles in his 4 year career.  He has been selected to 3 Pro Bowls.

 

Kenny Young, LB, Rookie, UCLA – Young was a 4 year starter for the Bruins in his college career, finishing in 2017 with 110 tackles and being named First-Team All-Pac 12.  His biggest weakness seems to be a slowness or lack to anticipate the play, but he is quick and has the measurables to contribute as a Weakside LB.  A strong training camp would give him a shot to start next to Mosley.

 

Alvin Jones, ILB, Rookie, University of Texas-El Paso – Alvin is the younger brother of Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones.  Alvin posted 343 tackles in his career at UTEP, along with 15 sacks, and was named to the All-Conference USA team three times.  Jones has an uphill battle to make the roster, but if any team has a long history of having undrafted free agents make the team on defense, it’s the Ravens.  Bam Bradley would be the primary competition for Jones.

 

peanut correa bradley

Patrick Onwuasor ILB, 3rd Year Veteran, Portland State University – Peanut doesn’t have the typical size for an ILB, but he plays bigger than his size.  Onwuasor made a name among the coaches for his fiery plays in camp in 2016.  While Kamalei Correa had the inside track to start at ILB in 2017, Onwuasor eventually supplanted him and finished with 13 starts, 65 tackles, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble.  His size makes him more of a hybrid Safety and Linebacker, but Onwuasor hasn’t let his size keep him off the field.  Still, the Ravens would likely prefer a bigger Linebacker to play alongside Mosley, allowing Onwuasor to play more of a situational role.

 

Kamalei Correa LB, 3rd Year Veteran, Boise State University – Correa has been a somewhat controversial figure in his 2 years with the team.  Drafted as a college edge rusher, the Ravens game Correa a chance to win a job in training camp, but was outplayed by Matt Judon and rarely saw the field or even the 45 man active roster.  In 2017, after Zach Orr’s retirement, Correa was surprisingly tapped as the first man up to replace him at Inside Linebacker, which was a position change for Correa.  While he seemed to do well in run defense, Correa struggled in pass coverage and ultimately lost the Weakside Linebacker job to Peanut Onwuasor.  In 2018, it seems like Correa is back to Edge Rusher primarily, though he is still getting snaps at ILB as well, and the coaches may see him filling an Albert McClellan type role.

 

Bam Bradley, ILB, 2nd Year Veteran, University of Pittsburgh – Bradley was an undrafted free agent in 2017, but due to excellent Special Teams and Defensive play in the preseason, he earned a spot on the 2017 53 man roster.  Sadly, just two games into his rookie season, Bradley tore his ACL and was lost for the year.  Now healthy, he will try to recapture the same level of play that surprisingly earned him a roster spot with the team in 2017.

 

NDSU football seniors

Chris Board, LB, Rookie, North Dakota State University – Board was originally slated to join the Ravens as a UDFA in April, but wasn’t signed as he apparently wasn’t physically ready.  Signed today, Board will be another LB/S hybrid like Onwuasor or Anthony Levine.  He finished 4th on NDSU in tackles in 2017 with 50.

 

ROSTER CHANCES:

(Likely keep 8-10 LBs)

 

LOCK – Suggs, Judon, Mosley, Bowser, Williams, Onwuasor, Young

BUBBLE – Smith, Bradley, Correa, McClellan

CAMP BODY – Jones, Board

 

 

2017 Review, IN JUST ONE PARAGRAPH:

The Ravens continued to invest in edge rushing depth by selecting Bowser and Williams in 2017, and are beginning to see the development of the guys who will have the torch passed from Suggs.  Matt Judon especially had a breakout season and was a strong complement to Suggs as a pass rushing duo.  This was offset with the looming loss of Zach Orr, who had a breakout season next to CJ Mosley in 2016, but was lost to career ending injury and the Ravens really never found a strong replacement.  They got some good play from Peanut Onwuasor, but clearly don’t view him as a long-term option.  Overall, the Linebacker group was good, but were middle of the league in sacks and contributed to a middling run defense.

 

 

2018 SEASON EXPECTATIONS:

The linebackers group in 2018 will go through a bit of a change at the get go, as 2017 LB coach Wink Martindale was promoted to fill the Defensive Coordinator job.  While Martindale will likely still have a major role in shaping the Linebacker unit, the Ravens will turn to Mike Macdonald (a Defensive Backs coach in 2017) and Drew Wilkins (an Assistant Defensive Line coach in 2017) to work with the Linebackers in 2018.  While it is a bit odd that both coaches installed as Linebacker coaches were not working with the group last year, I don’t expect the coaching change to have a major impact, so long as Martindale maintains a strong connection with the players in day-to-day work.  From what we’ve seen and heard in minicamps, that certainly looks the case, as Martindale is constantly seen talking up his players and being very communicative on what he is looking for.

The inside linebacker group has the most questions entering 2018, just as it’s had in 2017 and 2016.  CJ Mosley remains a solid starter at MLB, but as he enters his final year of his rookie contract, there are questions on how strong his play is compared to other top MLBs around the league.  Mosley is certainly looking to be paid as a Top 5, if not #1, MLB in the NFL.  That would be a pricy contract, seeing as some of the recent ILB contracts have been in the $10-12 million APY range.  Mosley has been a solid MLB for the Ravens, but still has enough rough spots in his game that he might not have proven he’s worth that top contract yet.  An exceptional 2018 would justify the deal, or it may price him out of the Ravens spending.  Meanwhile, as it has been for 3 years, the spot next to Mosley remains a question mark.  In 2016, Zach Orr stepped into the role and played exceedingly well, but injuries forced him to retire.  In 2017, Kamalei Correa was given the chance to earn the job, but wasn’t able to make the position change as strongly as the staff had hoped, which opened the door for UDFA Peanut Onwuasor to start the majority of the year there.  While Onwuasor plays with a lot of fire and determination, he also lacks the ideal size to be a starting option at ILB, and would fit more as a player who can be plugged in at different spots to provide versatility.  This is why the Ravens opted to draft Kenny Young with a 4th round draft pick.  While Young isn’t a guy you immediately pencil in as the starter, he does translate as more of a typical Weakside Linebacker and should be able to compete for the spot.  If he can’t earn the job though, I’m still confident that Onwuasor can continue to be a solid option there, as he finished as the 40th ranked LB in PFF rankings.  That doesn’t jump off the page as impressive, but it’s respectable enough to put him near “starter level” talent.

 

The Outside Linebacker group has a pass rushing duo up front which gives me a lot of excitement.  First, you have future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs.  As Suggs gets older, it is fun to watch him continue to play at a high level and keep inching his way up the career sacks list.  While I don’t expect him to crack the 200 that gives Bruce Smith the NFL record, Suggs could further cement his legacy with another 10 sack type season, which would put him just 2 sacks from the #10 spot in NFL history.  On the other side of the line, you have the future in Matt Judon.  Judon has burst onto the scene the last two seasons and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he claimed the sacks lead in 2018 from Suggs.  While it’s fun to watch Suggs rack up stats to add to his career resume, it’s more fun to see Judon developing into the guy who will set the tone in the pass rush when Suggs eventually decides to hang up his cleats.  Behind them, the situation gets a little less clear.  Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams were promising draft picks from 2017, but Bowser hit the rookie wall mid-season and Tim Williams never really found his way on the field.  This opened the door for Za’Darius Smith, who many thought wouldn’t even make the roster after the draft.  While Smith had a solid season, the Ravens need Bowser and Williams to take the next step in their development and produce on the field.  Williams seems to be a natural pass rusher, while Bowser could fill a more rounded role, playing in coverage in additional to rushing.  This leads us to Kamalei Correa.  Correa has been an absolutely mystery in his career.  Either he hasn’t found his footing in his opportunities, or the coaching staff tried to force him into roles that didn’t suit him.  In either case, this is a make or break year for Correa.  He needs to prove his value to even make the team, much less have a role befitting of his 2nd round draft status.  The good news is that Martindale’s scheme seems likely to put Correa in more of a natural role, instead of trying to plug him in at weak spots where he might not be a good fit.

 

The linebackers group, much like the defensive back group, returns all the major players from last year, along with Bam Bradley and Albert McClellan who were lost early to injury, and with an addition in Kenny Young to compete at ILB.  Judon and Suggs look to be a formidable sack duo, as they combined for 19 last year (The Ravens record for a sack duo is 29, set by Sizzle and Doom in 2014).  Mosley, while not quite a superstar, has been a consistent starter up the middle.  The area that the LB group seems to struggle with is pass coverage.  While it’s not expected to be a strong suit, there seems to be a recent trend of athletic, near WR level Tight Ends that the Linebackers end up having to cover.  Last season, the Ravens gave up 856 receiving yards and 8 TDs to Tight Ends.  That is the 10th most in the NFL.  Hopefully, the drafting of Young and the return of McClellan and Bradley will give the Ravens some better coverage options.  The linebacker group isn’t the strongest position on the defense, but remains a group with a lot of promise and, hopefully, continued development

 

 

 

 

NEXT WEEK on Position Roll Caw: DEFENSIVE LINE

One thought on “Position Roll Caw: Linebackers

  1. Max-SlamDown Sports

    Extremely comprehensive, well done! Since being drafted out of Alabama, CJ Mosley has always shown those flashes of brilliance. With another year of mentorship under Suggs and it being a contract year, he should make that next step into perennial Pro Bowler status. Overall it should be one nasty unit for opposing offenses in 2018.

    Like

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