Ravens: What does the L.J. Fort injury mean for Baltimore’s defense?

Ravens, L.J. Fort Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Ravens, L.J. Fort Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

The Baltimore Ravens were dealt a sizable blow on Sunday when it was announced that veteran linebacker L.J. Fort had torn his ACL and would miss the entirety of the 2021 season.

Fort went down during the Ravens’ preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday with a knee injury. Head coach John Harbaugh’s initial prognosis was that the team was fearing the worst.

And less than a full day later, they have their confirmation. Fort is done for the year.

What does this mean for the defense going forward? Who will step up and fill Fort’s role?

The Ravens originally signed Fort midway through the 2019 season when he and fellow veteran Josh Bynes stepped up and solidified the linebacker position down the stretch.

His play was enough to earn him a contract extension through the 2020 season. And he once again rewarded them with an excellent season starting eight of 14 games and finishing as Pro Football Focus‘ ninth-best linebacker.

But now, the Ravens will have to turn to other options as they look to replace Fort who played a vital role on both defense and special teams.

L.J. Fort’s injury opens the door for other Ravens linebackers

The biggest beneficiary of Fort’s absence will likely be 2020 third-round pick Malik Harrison. Harrison split reps with Fort last season and impressed as a downhill thumper, but he’ll have to take on a larger role in 2021 with Fort sidelined.

This will be a big test for the young linebacker as he looks to prove that he’s more than just an early-down run stopper.

Another player who will benefit from Fort’s absence is Chris Board who also saw some playing time at linebacker last season. Board is now the designated third linebacker and has his roster spot all but officially secured.

Fort’s injury also likely opens up the opportunity for someone like Kristian Welch to sneak his way onto the roster. Welch was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa last season and he went on to play in 10 games with the team, almost exclusively on special teams.

Previously on the outside looking in, Welch should be considered the favorite to earn that fourth inside linebacker job and make the team.

Finally, this only further increases the responsibilities of Patrick Queen in the Ravens defense. Now, Queen won’t have a veteran like Fort to lean on.

L.J. Fort’s injury leaves the Ravens razor-thin at inside linebacker with Queen, Harrison, Board, Welch, and Otaro Alaka (who has missed most of training camp with an injury) as the only players on the roster.

Don’t be surprised if they add another player to that list in the near future.

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Fort’s injury accelerates the future at the linebacker position. Queen and Harrison are now running the show. Unfortunately, the Ravens won’t have the veteran presence of Fort to lean on.