Terrell Suggs' 15-year career in the NFL includes seven interceptions, a remarkable number considering that his primary task is rushing off the edge and sacking the quarterback. But in less than four seasons, C.J. Mosley has already passed Suggs' total, collecting his eighth interception in the Ravens' 40-0 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 26.
Not one to blast his own horn, the 25-year-old Mosley could not help teasing the defense's elder statesman.
"Yes, we talked about that after the game and yesterday, actually," he revealed Wednesday. "Last year, he was saying, 'Yeah, you still don't have me in interceptions.' [I said], 'Well, I think I am one up on you now.' It would be nice for him to pick off a screen here or there like he has done in his past, but for right now, I got him."
For his part, Suggs was complimentary of his teammate, who is 10 years younger.
"He's half-man, half-amazing," Suggs said. "C.J.'s done some great things, and he's getting better and better every time that he takes the field, coming into his own. That's what we're known for here. But C.J.'s play kind of speaks for itself."
Mosley, who was anointed as the successor to Ray Lewis and Bart Scott when the franchise made him the 17th overall choice in the 2014 NFL draft, is holding up his end of the deal. He has amassed no fewer than 92 tackles in each of his first three years, seven sacks, and three forced fumbles while being invited to two Pro Bowls.
It could be argued that this season is Mosley's finest. He leads the league in solo tackles with 51, is tied for the lead among linebackers in interceptions with two, and ranks third among all defensive players in tackles with 68.
Along the way, Mosley has added two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a half-sack. He is one of only three players who have collected 400 tackles, five interceptions and five sacks since his debut in 2014. (The Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Telvin Smith are the others.)
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees recalled visiting the University of Alabama and taking Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix into a classroom to quiz them.
"I walked out of there and [said], 'We need this guy,' " Pees said Thursday. "He's everything advertised. He's been everything I thought, and I think he's the best linebacker in football."
Coach John Harbaugh said the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Mosley has the prototypical size for a middle linebacker. He is powerful enough to shed blocks and bring down running backs great and small. He is also swift enough to drop back and shadow tight ends and running backs down the field.
"I think he's playing great," Harbaugh said. "I'm seeing a good linebacker playing linebacker very well. He's a very instinctive player. I think he's a great athlete obviously."
Mosley's performances have earned him comparisons to Lewis and the Chicago Bears' Brian Urlacher, two of his favorite linebackers when he was growing up in Theodore, Ala.
"I pride myself in the way I play," he said. "I pride myself in being the inside linebacker and one of the captains on this team and on this defense. At the end of the day, you want to be known as one of the best linebackers in the league, but I am not really a big individual guy. As long as the team is winning, as long as the defense is doing good, I am happy with that. As long as I am playing my part in it, that is all that matters."
Before the game against Miami, Mosley, playing in a defensive scheme that seeks to occupy blockers with the defensive front to free him and teammates to make stops, had led the league in tackles Despite his slide to No. 3, Mosley said he is comfortable with losing a few tackles.
"If I am leading the league in tackles and our defense [stinks], then what is the point of that?" he rhetorically asked. "For me, as long as the defense is doing well, getting shutouts, and stopping the run, that is all that really matters."
One of the least obtrusive presences in the locker room, Mosley has emerged as a leader, especially with young linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Kamalei Correa. Onwuasor, who backed up Correa at the weak-side linebacker position before starting the past five contests, said Mosley and linebackers coach Don Martindale have tutored him on identifying opposing alignments where guards are designed to pull to open up running lanes.
"They've been drilling me a lot about seeing pullers and knowing certain formations and me hitting the hole and being confident," Onwuasor said. "The more confidence that I get from him, I'm playing faster because I know that I've got [Suggs] to my right and C.J. to my left and [free safety] Eric Weddle behind me. So they're just like, 'Play ball and play fast. Enjoy this and have fun.'"
The only blemish for Mosley is a run defense that ranks 30th in the NFL after giving up 100 yards to a running back in three of the previous five games. But the unit's ability to reverse that trend will depend on a number of players including Mosley, who — despite having one more year left on his contract after this season — envisions a lengthy tenure with the Ravens.
"I am proud to be in that position," he said. "I hope I stay in that position for a long time here because I love it here with the defense, with the coordinators and with the teammates that I plan on being with for a long time. As long as I just keep doing things right on the field and off the field, it looks like it is going to be that way."
Manning the middle
Since the Ravens made him the 17th overall selection of the 2014 NFL draft, C.J. Mosley has upheld the franchise's tradition of developing the league's best interior linebackers. Not only is he one of the top tacklers, but Mosley also is versatile enough to collect sacks and interceptions. Here are the linebackers who have produced at least 60 tackles, 40 solo stops, one interception and a half-sack in 2017.
*JOE SCHOBERT (Browns), 71 tackles, 42 solo, 1 interception, 0.5 sacks *C.J. MOSLEY (Ravens), 68 tackles, 51 solo, 2 interceptions, 0.5 sacks *BOBBY WAGNER (Seahawks), 61 tackles, 44 solo, 1 interception, 0.5 sacks *DEION JONES (Falcons), 60 tackles, 43 solo, 1 interception, 1.0 sacks