The Ravens have historically always had some great linebackers, and on paper this coming season is no exception. The rich appear to have gotten richer after the birds drafted athletic inside linebacker C.J. Mosley in the first round. But the position was widely viewed as a strength last offseason as well, yet ultimately didn’t live up to expectations.
Terrell Suggs started the season off strong, posting nine sacks over the first eight games, but only had one over the remaining eight. Now 32 years old, the drop off could be attributed to additional defensive attention, injury, or age. He appeared to come in to the season in great shape, so only Suggs and the Ravens know what really happened. The real question is, can he bounce back this year and produce consistently?
Suggs’ backup, Pernell McPhee, had a quiet season last year after moving from the defensive end position. After posting a promising six sacks in his rookie season, McPhee only had two last year. The jury is still out on his future, but he has the pass rushing tools to make an impact in doses.
Courney Upshaw likewise saw his production dip after showing in spots during his rookie season, and has oft struggled with conditioning. While he may struggle to get to the quarterback at times he has shown good run stuffing ability, which may be his ceiling at this point.
Elvis Dumervil lived up to the hype he brought over from some great years as a Bronco, racking up 9.5 sacks but also losing steam as the season wore on. He is still young at 29 and should be motivated and a little more settled in for his second year on the team.
Daryl Smith was easily the Raven’s most consistent ‘backer last year, leading the team in tackles. Smith struggles against the run and is 32 years old, but proved to be elite in coverage last season, coming in second in interceptions and passes defended. He is also a descent pass rusher, coming in third on the team in sacks behind Dumervil and Suggs.
Arthur Brown had a tough time adjusting to the NFL in his rookie season, but early reports from OTAs look promising. All signs point to Brown making the second year leap, perhaps even starting over C.J. Mosley early in the season. At this very least it looks like he is ready to contribute in a part time role.
Overall, this is a quality unit that has the potential to be excellent this year. If Suggs and Dumervil can hold up for the duration of the season and Smith continues his surprisingly solid play, they will be successful. Brown and Mosley are expected to be the future at inside lineback, and their development is key for the team’s success long term.
The team hopes that Upshaw and McPhee continue to develop, but at this point the jury is very much still out on both. In a unit that features as much depth as this one, even if they don’t make considerable progress this season it won’t be the end of the world. There is enough talent here to make up for these deficiencies.
What do you think about this year’s linebacking core?