What the Baltimore Ravens need from their outside linebackers

The Baltimore Ravens must feel confident in the outside linebacker position. What kind of production do the Ravens need to justify their lack of moves at this position:

The Baltimore Ravens didn’t add Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney or any big name edge rusher. If you don’t count undrafted free agents the Ravens haven’t made any changes to the outside linebacker position this offseason. The Ravens have added at least one player to every other position group on the defense. The defensive line got a handful of new faces. The Ravens drafted two inside linebackers and even added a safety with their last draft pick.

If the purple and black struggle to get after the quarterback, the biggest second guessing of the offseason will be how the Ravens added to the defense. Ravens fans spent all offseason refreshing their Twitter feeds, hoping to see news about an edge rusher. The Ravens beefed up the middle of the defense instead and added interior pass rush. This should in theory help the Ravens outside linebackers to be productive.

Matt Judon, who still hasn’t gotten a long-term deal from the Ravens, needs to have a great season. Judon is currently set to get paid under the franchise tag. His cap hit for the 2020 season is just under $16 million dollars (according to Spotrac.com) so he needs to produce at a high rate.

Last season Judon didn’t have much help in his chase of the quarterback. Judon managed to get 54 tackles and nine and a half sacks. This season Judon has to get the sack total up. He has better play at the defensive end position. Pass protection against Baltimore is now more nuanced than “Don’t let Judon beat you.”

Judon needs to have 12 sacks this season. That’s where the bar has to be set. He needs to have a career year, in the most loaded defense he’s ever played on. Judon needs to stay in the 50-65 total tackle range and maintain his aptitude against the run. Judon needs to be a problem for offensive coordinators and he has to provide a lot of quarterback rushes. It’s not just about the sack total.

Tyus Bowser had a somewhat solid 2019 season. He had five sacks and 24 tackles. Bowser played better in the second half of the season last year. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com he had three sacks and seven quarterback hits in the second half of the season. If Bowser can get to seven to nine sacks and be a little more consistent off the edge that would be the sweet spot. That’s probably the most the Ravens can get out of him.

Jaylon Ferguson numbers from the 2019 season don’t matter. He was clearly a raw and undeveloped player last season. Ferguson needs to improve in the run game. He struggled with outside contain last season. From a pass rush standpoint he needs to have the kind of year that Bowser had last year. If he can give the Ravens five to six sacks and a decent amount of plays where his rush impacted the play, that’s going to be good enough.

So the minimums for the Ravens outside linebackers in terms of sack total should be set at 24 sacks. This is just the sack totals from their main trio at outside linebacker. The Ravens will probably get 12-14 sacks from their defensive end duo of Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell.

The rest of the defensive line should get the Ravens about five more sacks. The Ravens should get some five to ten sacks from blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. Working with the standards we’re putting in place for the minimum production Baltimore is looking at about a 46 sack season. Baltimore had a highly ranked defense in 2019 and only totaled 37 sacks. For perspective, the Pittsburgh Steelers led the NFL with 54 sacks last year. 

The Ravens could easily add a veteran pass rusher to the mix. Clay Matthews and Pernell McPhee are names people are going to keep putting out there as long as they remain available. It’s not all about sack totals but for the purposes of this conversation we’ve looked mainly at tangible production. The Ravens should get enough from the outside linebacker position considering how stacked the defense is around them.