Ravens defensive line must undergo youth movement in the offseason

Ravens, Brandon Williams (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Ravens, Brandon Williams (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Ravens defense has been veteran-heavy for a few years now, especially when talking about the defensive line. But this offseason, this team is essentially going to be forced into a youth movement.

Expiring contracts, underperforming veterans, and a need to add younger talent to the unit will all contribute to what could be a near-complete overhaul of the team’s defensive line.

The future of defensive end Calais Campbell is very much up in the air. Campbell is on the last year of his contract and there’s reportedly a strong belief that he will consider retiring in the offseason.

Even if he doesn’t, there’s no guarantee he returns.

Others such as Brandon Williams and Justin Ellis are also on expiring contracts. Throw in Derek Wolfe, who the Ravens might look to move on from if the opportunity presents itself, and the defensive line might look very different by the time 2022 rolls around.

The Ravens could move on from many of their veteran defensive linemen

One player who is almost guaranteed to be playing his final year in Baltimore is Williams. The longtime Ravens nose tackle is on the final year of a five-year, $54 million extension he signed prior to the 2017 season.

Williams has been a highly effective run stopper for the majority of his Ravens career, but his production has fallen off a cliff in 2021.

The 32-year-old currently has an abysmal 43.5 Pro Football Focus grade that ranks 121st out of 131 qualified interior defensive linemen. What’s more concerning is that the strength of his game has actually become his biggest weakness.

Williams has been a major liability in run defense this season with a PFF run-defense grade of 30.8 that ranks 130th out of 135 qualifiers. He’s been one of the biggest catalysts behind a questionable Ravens’ run defense this season.

He’s been outplayed by another veteran in Ellis who is also in the final year of his deal. The Ravens could look to keep Ellis around as a backup nose tackle, but it’s far from a guarantee that he’s back either.

The same goes for Wolfe who could be cut in the offseason with a dead cap penalty of $3.6 million. It might just be better to keep him around, but if the Ravens want to save a little money, they could cut ties with Wolfe whose extension looks like a major miss for general manager Eric DeCosta.

The Ravens will likely turn to the 2022 NFL Draft as they look to rebuild this defensive line. Prospects such as Georgia’s Jordan Davis and Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal could be first-round targets come April.

They also might lean on recent draft picks like Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington, although neither has shown that they’re ready for an increased role just yet. The hope is that Madubuike can put together a strong finish to the season.

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The Ravens will undergo a forced youth movement on the defensive line this offseason. Expect the unit to look vastly different a year from now.