As much as the Baltimore Ravens might have needed to address the inside linebacker position—a view that they do not appear to hold after failing to add depth there either through free agency or through the draft—the organizational belief was, seemingly, that it was the outside linebacker position in greater need of being addressed, certainly a view that is fair.
Consider the fact that their projected starting outside linebackers, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, are getting up there in age. Dumervil, the young pup of the two, just earned 32 earlier this year as he heads into his 11th NFL season. Suggs, heading into his 14th season after missing virtually all of last year, is going to turn 34 in October.
Equally significant in who they have on the roster is who they no longer have, as in each of the past two offseasons they have lost key players in their defensive rotation at the edge rushing spot. Pernell McPhee signed with the Bears in 2015, and Courtney Upshaw just left in free agency as well.
The Ravens did add Za’Darius Smith last year in the draft in the fourth round, and he did produce as a rookie, including 5.5 sacks, but Baltimore also continued to replenish the position and prepare for the future as they used a second-round choice on Kamalei Correa this past April. While Correa still has some elements of his game to work out, one thing he can do is get after the passer.
And the Ravens do need help getting after the passer. Last season, they finished the year with just 37 sacks, which ranked tied for 17th in the league. By way of comparison, the Steelers finished ranked third in the league with 48 sacks, a radical increase from the year before, when, coincidentally, Baltimore happened to rank among the top of the league with 49 sacks.
In 2014, Dumervil on his own recorded 17 sacks, more than anybody ever has in a Steelers uniform. Suggs chipped in another 12 on his own, giving the Ravens 29 sacks just from their two starting outside linebackers, which is, again, more than the Steelers ever had achieved from their starting pair of edge rushers.
Those numbers fell off a cliff in 2015. Dumervil managed just six sacks last year despite starting every game. Suggs was lost for the year in the season opener, but Upshaw and Smith, who worked in tandem to replace him, combined for just 7.5 sacks on the season, a meager 13.5 sacks from the outside linebacker position on the season.
Suggs will be back, but to what level remains to be seen. Dumervil was far from the pass-rushing threat that he had been in years past last year before he was asked to be a regular starter—he spent his first two years in Baltimore usually coming off the bench.
With Smith a year further into his development, and adding a strong pass-rushing talent in Correa, the front office is hoping that they have enough firepower coming off the edge to get to the quarterback more often this season, because name recognition alone doesn’t get you into the backfield.