The Baltimore Ravens are using the 2020 NFL Draft and Free Agency to round out a year-long mission to “build a bully,” as GM Eric DeCosta put it.
On January 29, 2019, Baltimore Ravens GM Eric DeCosta uttered something in an interview with Garrett Downing that has stuck with me for almost a year and a half: “I will do whatever we can to build a bully…”
That word, bully. That’s it! That’s what the Ravens have been missing. Heading into 2019, before the NFL Draft, I looked at the Ravens roster on paper and thought, “I get what DeCosta means.” The Ravens had smooth and suave players, sure, but they were missing a lot of types of guys you would have seen on the 2000 Ravens defense, or even recent offensive guys like Steve Smith, Sr.; people you think of when you think of the Baltimore Ravens, like Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, and Jarret Johnson. These are warriors, soldiers built for trench warfare. The Ravens in January of 2019 didn’t seem to have that mud on the pads, blood on the elbows look I think the Ravens need. DeCosta must have agreed.
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So, fast-forward a few months and the Ravens pulled in hard-nosed skill position players like Mark Ingram and Earl Thomas III through Free Agency, and drafted big-bodied tough players like Jaylon Ferguson and Daylon Mack. It seemed like the tide might be turning, along with the clocks turning back in time to what made the Ravens great: ground-and-pound offense and suffocating defense. I’m not just talking about the guys with good-to-great stats, I’m talking about players that have more than “swag,” I’m talking about guys that play for the love of football and want the opponent to look across the line of scrimmage and think: “This is going to hurt. Whatever they do next, I’m getting hit and shoved into the turf.”
Fast-forward again, past the 2019 season, past the Ravens adding good pieces to their defense mid-season, such as Marcus Peters and L.J. Fort, and the Ravens didn’t make the Super Bowl. They didn’t even make it to the AFC Championship game. And why did the Ravens fail to advance in the playoffs? They lost the battles in the trenches. O-linemen got shoved around. Receivers got smothered. Earl Thomas got turned into a blocker for Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry. It wasn’t pretty. What DeCosta did in 2019, his first year as GM wasn’t enough. If the “bully” was physical and anthropomorphic, it had a brain, skeleton, and skin, but it was time to give the “bully” some muscles and a heart. Welcome to the 2020 NFL off-season.
Signing Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, and keeping 2019 Ravens such as Matthew Judon (via Franchise Tag), Chuck Clark, L.J. Fort, and Jimmy Smith was a start. Bring back the guys that were impact players for the Ravens in 2019 and bring in two more great pieces to bolster the interior defensive line. Let’s make sure Derrick Henry, or anyone, won’t run over us again. The Ravens struggled against the run all season. Remember Nick Chubb in Week four? Remember the 49ers in Week 13? The Ravens weren’t the bully; they got bullied.