Ozzie Newsome has done a nice job with the roster and putting pieces in place to fill holes, as expected. However, for all of the noise the Ravens have made in free agency — resigning Pitta, Daryl Smith and Jacoby Jones, signing Steve Smith — he also lost some key contributors that have yet to be replaced.
Arguably the most important of those players is defensive end Arthur Jones. Reunited with Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis, the former fifth round draft pick signed a contract worth $33 million that the Ravens front office knew they would be unable to match. In fact, they didn’t even bother extending an offer to the homegrown product, as Jones became next in the line of Ravens defenders like Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe who fulfilled their potential to the point their services couldn’t be retained.
Inevitably though, Arthur Jones, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe only achieved that success because they found their niche in the, “Next Man Up,” system. And so, this sort of turnover is nothing new for a Ravens front office that usually finds a way to recover. But just what did Arthur Jones bring to the Ravens defense that they’ll need to replace?
Although many consider Arthur Jones to be a defensive tackle, he operated out of the defensive end role in the Ravens’ 3-4 defense. Lined up at the 3-technique — that is, between the guard and the tackle — a successful 3-technique defender is somebody who can not only take up space, but also shoot gaps and disrupt the backfield. Arthur Jones excelled in this area, as while he is a load to deal with for an offensive lineman, his genetics transferred a fighter’s feet and quickness.
Of the players who lined up on the line of scrimmage not named Suggs or Dumervil, Jones had the most sacks as well as the most tackles for a loss. Both Jones and Haloti Ngata ended the season with six quarterback hits respectively, a good sign that the Ravens defense was able to generate pressure up the middle. But it was Jones who routinely made stops behind the line and allowed Haloti to move over to the nose tackle spot in the defense.
Now that Jones is gone, the team has to figure out how they will fill that hole. There are a few ways they could go about this, as they have some young players who may be able to capably fill the 3-technique or nose tackle position.
Brandon Williams, last year’s third round pick, is one of the most impressive athletes on the roster. If you don’t believe me, check out the video of the 6’3″ behemoth walking on his hands. Although, despite Williams showing some ability to get into the backfield last season (one sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits), the consensus was that he didn’t seem prepared for a full time role. Coming from a small university, it is possible that Williams just needed to get his feet wet and he will be ready to step into a larger role. If that is the case, he could probably succeed at either the 3-technique or the nose tackle spot.
Another internal candidate is DeAngelo Tyson, the Ravens’ seventh round pick in the 2012 draft out of Georgia. However, Tyson would probably have more success in a defensive tackle role, as he lacks the explosiveness to consistently penetrate the line of scrimmage, and though he had some success last year, isn’t widely known for his pass rushing abilities.
Lastly, a sleeper candidate for the position is last year’s sixth round draft pick, Kapron Lewis-Moore. Lewis-Moore was one of the stars of the Notre Dame defense that made it all the way to the National Championship, however, he suffered a torn ACL in the 2013 BCS title. He spent most of his rookie season rehabbing that knee, but his talent is undeniable. At Notre Dame, Lewis-Moore spent most of his time lined up at 3-technique or 5-technique (lined up on the tackle’s outside shoulder), meaning that he has more than adequate feet. Had he not tore his ACL, it is likely that Lewis-Moore would have been drafted in the second or third round of last year’s draft, so he definitely has the talent to contribute, when healthy.
In the end, it seems as though the Ravens are going to have to add talent to their defensive line, in some way. It is very possible that they could field a decent line with the current roster, but even still, they should be taking steps to shore up the future. Haloti Ngata has the highest cap number of anyone on the roster, and the team will likely be reevaluating that deal next offseason, so it would make sense to prepare for the worst.
That being said, their need at defensive end is currently less important than their needs at safety, center, guard/tackle and nickel cornerback. So, don’t expect the team to select a defensive lineman at number 17 overall in May, unless of course one of the top prospects slides down the board and into Ozzie’s lap. Instead, look for the Ravens to do some long term scouting of players they could see fitting their scheme, and come rounds 3-7, they will probably draft a big defender. Or, the possibility remains for a Chris Canty or Cory Redding-esque signing in free agency, and Ozzie and his staff have been particularly adept at identifying value on the open market with defensive linemen.
Let’s see how it plays out.