Rostered defensive linemen: Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams, Jihad Ward, Patrick Ricard, Justin Ellis, Daylon Mack, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington, Aaron Crawford.
There wasn’t a position the Ravens attacked more aggressively than the defensive line this offseason.
The Ravens traded for Calais Campbell from the Jaguars, attempted to sign Michael Brockers but were unable to finalize a deal and eventually landed Derek Wolfe, then drafted Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington with the 71st and 170th picks in the NFL Draft.
Now, the Ravens’ defensive line has undergone a facelift set in motion on Jan. 11, when Titans running back Derrick Henry rushed for 195 yards on 30 carries in the AFC divisional playoffs. That loss clearly didn’t sit well with the Ravens, who were beaten at their own game in a season that had Super Bowl aspirations.
The Ravens’ starting defensive front against the Titans consisted of Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Chris Wormley. Off the bench, the team used Justin Ellis, Domata Peko Sr., and Jihad Ward to fill in the rotation.
Now, just Williams, Ellis and Ward remain on the roster along with Daylon Mack, who was on injured reserve. And Ellis, who is on the roster bubble, isn’t safe either.
Size was clearly of importance this offseason, as the Ravens added Campebll (6-foot-8 and 300 pounds) and Wolfe (6-foot-5 and 285 pounds) to join Williams, who is 6-foot-1 and 336 pounds.
Last year, the Ravens ranked 21st in the NFL with 4.4 rushing yards allowed per game, though teams rarely ran the ball against the Ravens simply because they were likely trailing and needed to pass. And even though Campbell, Williams and Wolfe are all older than 30-years-old, they should provide an immediate boost up the middle.
Campbell, who has been in the league since 2008, hasn’t missed a game in five years as a member of the Cardinals and Jaguars. In his last three years in Jacksonville, he totaled 31.5 sacks, 195 tackles and 77 quarterback hits.
Wolfe’s career has been much more up-and-down, as he’s battled injuries for the last handful of seasons. He’s played 16 games three times in his career and just once since 2015. But he can rush the passer still, as he had seven sacks for the Broncos last season.
The Ravens ranked 21st in the NFL in sacks (37 total) a year ago, but second in quarterback knockdowns (59). Without clear and cheap options to improve the edge rusher position, they made a few savvy additions to the interior which should give edge rushers Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser more one-on-one matchups outside.
With the starting three defensive linemen seemingly set in stone, the Ravens will have Ward, Ricard, Washington and Madubuike as young depth along the interior. From there, however, the numbers get muddled.
If the Ravens want to keep seven true defensive linemen with Ricard mostly on offense, the last spot would likely come down to Ellis and Mack, two bigger defensive linemen on the roster.
That would only leave one lineman, unrestricted free agent signee Aaron Crawford, who is likely a candidate for the practice squad at the start of training camp.
Otherwise, the Ravens’ four additions in free agency and the draft, along with the re-signing of Ward, essentially wrote the depth chart out before the summer.
The defensive line will need to pressure the quarterback more than it did a season ago, but will be aided by an improved secondary and linebacking corps. Not only will the Ravens get back cornerback Tavon Young from injury this year, they drafted linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in the first and third rounds of the draft.
With an improved back-end keeping things clean for the Ravens’ defensive line, all the elements are there for a dominant season from the revamped unit.
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