Advertisement
Baltimore Ravens

Ravens draft preview: Overhauled defensive line still needs young talent. There’s good help available.

The Ravens’ most expensive offseason project — upgrade the defensive line — won’t stop with their signings of defensive ends Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. Partly because it can’t.

Campbell turns 34 in September. Wolfe turned 30 in February and is on a one-year deal. Brandon Williams, the team’s longtime defensive tackle, turned 31 in February and is set to hit free agency after the 2021 season. There’s not much behind them, either. The Ravens have rarely looked for defensive line help high in the NFL draft in recent years, and their yield in later rounds hasn’t amounted to much.

Advertisement

Defensive tackle Carl Davis, the No. 90 overall pick in 2015, lasted three years in Baltimore. Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (No. 70 in 2016) lasted two. Defensive tackle Willie Henry (No. 134 in 2016) had three up-and-down, injury-riddled seasons. Defensive end Chris Wormley (No. 74 in 2017) was traded last month. Defensive end Zach Sieler (No. 238 in 2018) was waived in December. Defensive tackle Daylon Mack (No. 160 in 2019) played nine snaps last season.

All of which has left the Ravens relying on short-term deals to cover holes and, now, looking to the draft to build a new foundation. Auburn’s Derrick Brown and South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw are potential top-10 picks in next week’s draft, but general manager Eric DeCosta will have quality options later in the first and second rounds. Here’s how five potential defensive line targets in that range stack up, why they’d fit and why they might not:

Advertisement

1. Auburn’s Marlon Davidson

Why he’d fit: A four-year starter for the Tigers, Davidson finished ahead of his teammate Brown in sacks (7½) and had as many tackles for loss (12½) last season. As a 278-pound defensive end in 2019, he lined up outside an offensive tackle on more than two-thirds of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. But at the NFL scouting combine, the 6-foot-3 Davidson weighed in at 303 pounds and still ran a 5.04-second 40-yard dash, suggesting his future might be as a full-time interior lineman.

His skill set should help him contribute in any scheme, as should his motor. Davidson was almost immovable as an edge-setting, stand-up end for Auburn, and his added weight could help him fare just as well inside. When he had a good get-off at the line of scrimmage, his hand usage and thick upper body made his pass-rush arc difficult to disrupt. Davidson even blocked three field-goal attempts last year.

Why he might not: Davidson would likely have to play as a five-technique (lined up over a tackle’s outside shoulder) or three-technique lineman in Baltimore, and do so from a three-point stance. He dominated in limited practice snaps at the Senior Bowl, but there’s still much to learn.

Transitioning to a new position with a shortened offseason could be especially difficult. According to NFL.com, he was on the field for only 51% of the Tigers’ snaps against the run. Would he be able to hold up inside against double teams? The geometry of interior and outside pass rushes is also different, and Davidson, who’s more agile than sudden, doesn’t have as much experience winning in close quarters.

2. Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore

Why he’d fit: Gallimore’s production is finally catching up to his freakish athleticism. After dropping 30 pounds before his senior season, the Ontario native racked up four sacks, 7½ tackles for loss and two forced fumbles — all career highs — and a combined 28 quarterback hits and hurries, according to PFF. At the combine, the 6-2, 304-pound Gallimore ran a 4.79-second 40-yard dash, the second-fastest time among defensive linemen.

He plays with that kind of burst, and the violent hands to match. Gallimore doesn’t need long to blow by guards and centers, just a quick first step, a club to the blocker’s shoulder and a swim move. As a run defender, he can be a disruptive one-gap penetrator. Maybe most impressive is his work rate. Late in a blowout of Texas Tech, Gallimore beat the center easily, shed a running back's chip block and chased down the scrambling quarterback from behind to force a fumble.

Why he might not: Gallimore wasn’t an every-down presence for the Sooners; he played only 53.7% of the team’s defensive snaps, according to The Athletic. He split his time last year almost evenly between the A gaps (between the center and guard) and B gaps (between the guard and tackle), but his NFL production might be most volatile as a nose tackle, where he was most valuable for Oklahoma.

Gallimore’s play strength is his biggest obstacle inside. Whatever leverage he can win with his explosiveness, he can lose by playing too upright, sapping him of his power when blockers get into his chest. Despite Gallimore’s wondrous weight room strength — he’s reportedly bench-pressed 500 pounds and squatted 800 pounds — he struggled against double teams. His eagerness to shoot gaps took him out of plays, too.

Advertisement

3. Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike

Why he’d fit: Madubuike has been among the nation’s most productive interior linemen over the past two years, with a combined 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. At 6-3, 293 pounds, he might not have the heft to hold up as a nose tackle, but his explosive qualities make him a potential three-down force as a three-technique lineman. At the combine, Madubuike showed impressive speed (4.83-second 40-yard dash), strength (31 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press) and lateral agility (finished just behind lighter edge rushers in the three-cone drill).

He has a lean frame but packs a mean punch. Madubuike’s wingspan is nearly as wide as the 6-5 Brown’s, and he jolted blockers back when he landed his strikes. With a good get-off, he was tough to keep out of the backfield. In run defense, he has the quickness to win inside as a one-gapping penetrator, and could be used to hold the point of attack as a two-gapper. He also blocked a field-goal attempt last season.

Why he might not: After a breakout sophomore season, Madubuike didn’t make much of a leap with his 2019 production. He’s a capable pass rusher, but there’s room for growth in his ability to counter and shed blockers.

Consistency will be key for Madubuike as he develops. His quickness off the snap fluctuated, and he struggled to keep his balance when his pad level left him vulnerable to jabs. When he couldn’t win early on the play, his work rate usually suffered.

4. TCU’s Ross Blacklock

Why he’d fit: For being 290 pounds, Blacklock, the son of a former Harlem Globetrotter, plays with basketball-esque quickness. That starts with his great first step and ends with a closing burst to track down ball carriers. The Horned Frogs often asked him to line up over center, loop around at the snap and attack the outside shoulder of offensive tackles.

At 6-3, Blacklock plays with great leverage and pad level. His lateral movement and sudden hands made him a chore for Big 12 Conference interior linemen to mirror, and should also help him succeed against NFL zone-blocking schemes. Blacklock likely projects as a three-technique lineman (lined up over a guard’s outside shoulder), where he can win as a pass rusher on stunts and disrupt pulling guards in the run game.

Advertisement
Baltimore Ravens Insider

Baltimore Ravens Insider

Weekly

Want the inside scoop on the Ravens? Become a Ravens Insider and you'll have access to news, notes and analysis from The Sun.

Why he might not: Blacklock is most valuable as a pass rusher, and he had a career pass-rush win rate of 12.6% at TCU, according to PFF, well above average. But over his two full seasons as a starter — he suffered an Achilles tendon injury in August 2018 — he combined for just 5½ sacks. He also finished with just nine tackles for loss last season.

As a run stopper, Blacklock struggled at times to anchor against double teams; his play strength might keep him from succeeding as a two-gap linemen. While he ran a 4.9-second 40-yard dash at the combine, his other athletic testing results ranked among the lower third for defensive linemen. (He didn’t participate in the bench press.)

5. Missouri’s Jordan Elliott

Why he’d fit: Brown and Kinlaw are first-round locks, but it was Elliott who graded out as PFF’s highest-rated interior defender last season. Lining up wherever the Tigers needed him up front, he finished with three sacks and 10 tackles for loss, along with nine quarterback hits and 21 hurries.

The 6-4, 302-pound Elliott drew a lot of attention in his first year as a starter, which limited his one-on-one opportunities. But he flashed star potential. He already has a go-to pass-rush move (jab step followed by an arm-over technique) and is developing a counter (spin move). On a defense like the Ravens’, which doesn’t require an every-down interior lineman, his raw power could be more effectively harnessed.

Why he might not: Elliott could dominate against one Top-25 Southeastern Conference opponent, like Florida, and disappear against another, like Georgia. Part of the problem was his technique: Too often, Elliott played with a high pad level, which allowed lesser blockers to control him. In run defense, he was inconsistent anchoring against double teams.

Predraft interviews could be especially insightful. As a high school recruit, Elliott committed to Baylor, Houston and Michigan before signing with Texas. After his freshman season, he transferred to Missouri, where he reunited with his former Longhorns defensive line coach and eventually became a team captain.

Advertisement

Other possibilities: Ohio State’s Davon Hamilton, Utah’s Leki Fotu, Alabama’s Raekwon Davis, Baylor’s James Lynch, North Carolina’s Jason Strowbridge


Advertisement