Rostered inside linebackers: Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, L.J. Fort, Chris Board, Otaro Alaka, Kristian Welch
In mid-April the Ravens’ weakest position, both in terms of the starting lineup and the team’s depth, likely was their inside linebackers.
And in three rounds of the NFL Draft, the Ravens turned a big hole on their defense into one of the most interesting positions on the roster.
The Ravens picked LSU linebacker Patrick Queen 28th overall, then double-dipped at inside linebacker with the selection of Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison in the third round at 98th overall. The duo of rookies instantly turned the Ravens inside linebacking corps into a strength.
Queen was a national champion last year and started 12 games for the Tigers. He made 95 tackles and had three sacks with one interception. The Ravens spoke time and time again about his sideline-to-sideline speed, which should play well behind the Ravens’ massive defensive front.
Last year, the Ravens played safety Chuck Clark at middle linebacker in a handful of situations, perhaps more than the team would’ve preferred, but Queen’s addition means defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale can move Clark back into the secondary on obvious running situations. Queen will start at the MIKE, or middle, linebacker in the team’s defense.
One of the benefits of Queen, too, is that he doesn't have to come off the field on passing downs. If the Ravens want to keep him on the field for all three downs, he's certainly got the talent to do so.
He could very well be flanked by a fellow member of his draft class in Harrison, who fits the mold of an old-school linebacker.
Harrison was a two-year starter at Ohio State and made 81 and 75 tackles in the last two seasons of his career. He also had 16.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2019. The Ravens expect Harrison to start at the WILL (weak-side) linebacker, but emphasized that both Queen and Harrison can rotate spots at linebacker.
But if the two rookies aren’t able to pick up the NFL game quick enough to demand immediate playing time, they’ve got L.J. Fort, Chris Board and Otaro Alaka returning at linebacker who have played in the system for a year already.
Fort has the most experience, as he’s played in 77 games in his career and made eight starts last season for the Ravens. He made 35 combined tackles and registered two sacks as a mid-season addition for the defense.
Board played in just 64 defensive snaps a season ago and was predominantly used on special teams. Alaka made the original roster as an undrafted free agent but was put on injured reserve at the end of September.
So while the Ravens have three players on the roster who have experience in the system, just one (Fort) had significant in-game experience a season ago which made Queen and Harrison’s selections all the more important.
Kristian Welch, an inside linebacker out of Iowa who signed this year as an undrafted free agent, likely will be competing for a spot on the practice squad in training camp.
If the Ravens are guaranteed to keep Queen, Harrison and Fort on the roster this year, the number of inside linebackers the team carries could mean either Alaka or Board find themselves not on the 53-man roster. For a majority of the season a year ago, the Ravens carried four inside linebackers. Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, two of those four, will play for different teams in the 2020 season.
Last year, the Ravens’ top two leading tacklers were Clark and cornerback Marlon Humphrey before Onwuasor at third. Now, with two new rookies in the fold, the team’s defensive options increased significantly.
Both Queen and Harrison add speed and size to a defense that added four new defensive linemen in free agency, as the front seven’s overhaul took centerstage this offseason.
And if the Ravens are able to get Queen and Harrison as much as the team would like, they’ll have some new leading tacklers in 2020.
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