The Baltimore Ravens’ future with the defensive line is very much in question this offseason. With young players like Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington, you get a sense of what the future could start to look like. There are still so many questions that need to be asked.
One of the major sources of uncertainty is the cost inefficiency of the unit. Brandon Willaims and Calais Campbell have two of the highest cap hits for the 2021 season. The Ravens are paying a lot for veteran talent on their defensive line and yet don’t have a surplus of a pass rush.
The Ravens have always valued the ability to stop the run. That’s why the Ravens have always been willing to invest in Williams. Williams is the classic space-eater in the middle of the defensive line. In terms of stopping the run, there is almost nobody better.
Williams should be back next season. The Ravens could cut Williams to save cap space, though there is a very legitimate reason to keep him around. When in the last couple of seasons have the Ravens been able to stop the run without Williams? He’s a key player even if he’s not a versatile one.
Eric DeCosta is almost stuck paying a lot on the defensive line. Getting rid of Williams or even Campbell would create another thing the Ravens would have to replace on the roster. Signing Derek Wolfe in free agency isn’t a given, so he could go, yet bringing him back is a good idea.
Letting go of Williams would be banking on the idea of Washington stepping up. Washington didn’t get that much playing time in the 2020 season. What we know is that he is a player in the same mold as Williams is.
While Madabuike and Washington are very interesting players entering their second season, they’re not ready to replace the starters in front of them. According to Pro Football Focus, Madbuike played 259 snaps in the 2020 season. Brandon Williams played over 350 snaps. Derek Wolfe played 621 snaps.
There is a big difference between being a rotational player getting some on-the-job training and being a starter. The starting three defensive linemen should look relatively the same. Madubuike and Washington will be back behind them. Most of the puzzle pieces will fit in the same way next season.
Moving forward DeCosta will probably put a premium on pass rush when drafting for the defensive line positions. The needs of outside linebackers would be less magnified if they got more interior pressure on the quarterback. The Ravens get a lot of one thing from their defensive line and not a ton of the other.
The Ravens have to hope that Campbell’s pass-rushing impact goes up in a year where he can stay less banged up than he did in 2020.
The bottom line:
It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Ravens spend a second or third-round pick on a defensive lineman with some explosive pass-rushing traits. The Ravens need to start building a future beyond what their older talents can offer.
Assuming Campbell is going to be a Ravens player for another season, the offseason hinges on Williams and Wolfe for the defensive line. With so many components already in place and a laundry list of needs for Baltimore’s roster, keeping a great run-stopping defensive line intact is a good idea. Build for the future, though the future doesn’t have to take over yet.