Free agency hit the Ravens hard at linebacker. C.J. Mosley signed a record deal with the New York Jets, Terrell Suggs returned home to play for the Arizona Cardinals, and Za’Darius Smith earned a big payday from the Green Bay Packers.
At inside linebacker, the Ravens return starter Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young, a 2018 fourth-round draft pick who earned steady playing time throughout his rookie season. Chris Board also impressed on special teams in his first NFL season.
At outside linebacker, Matthew Judon is entering the final year of his rookie deal after a strong seven-sack season. Behind him, there’s pedigree but little production. Tyus Bowser, a former second-round pick, and Tim Williams, a former third-round pick, saw few defensive snaps last season and combined for 2½ sacks.
But the Ravens haven’t devised an alternative succession plan yet. The team has not signed a pass rusher in free agency, and it could pass on taking one in the first round of the draft. Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said Tuesday that he hopes Bowser and Williams can “take the next step.”
“I've seen them play really good football at the college level,” he said at the team’s predraft news conference. “Both guys have flashed ability at our level, so they're both athletic guys, play hard. Within our defense, our scheme, they both can rush the passer, as we've seen in college. So this is their time. We've got some holes in the roster at both spots at the outside linebacker position. If they're ever going to do it, this is the time to do it.”
DeCosta guessed that Michigan’s Devin Bush and LSU’s Devin White, considered the draft’s top inside linebacker prospects, would be “probably gone before we pick” but said there are some “very, very good players in that second tier.”
“Just find the guy that makes the tackle,” he said of his draft criteria for inside linebackers. “It's not rocket science. You just find a guy that plays fast and makes the play, and those are the guys you want. Defense is just making tackles. It's almost an individual position in some respects. It's the guy that's getting to the football. If you can find that guy on everybody's team who gets to the ball before anybody else, they're probably going to be a good football player.”