The Baltimore Ravens have been consistently good on defense for many years. Their franchise was built on the backs of great defenses. But one area in which they have not been consistently great in recent years has been in the pass rush, an area in which they have also seen a lot of turnaround.
After watching Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith leave in free agency, the Ravens this offseason also said goodbye to Matthew Judon, as well as Yannick Ngakoue, a former Pro Bowler whom they acquired in-season via trade. This coming off of a season in which no player had more than six sacks, that being Judon.
Prior to the draft, their most significant holdover was Tyus Bowser, a former high draft pick, while they also expect progress from Jaylon Ferguson entering year three. But the scouting department wasn’t going to leave the position as it was, with Pernell McPhee as the third rusher. They drafted two more pass-rushers, including Odafe Oweh out of Penn State.
Oweh was the 31st pick in the draft, and though he actually finished the 2020 season with zero sacks, was a very highly-regarded pass rusher with what he shows on tape. Looking at his overall college stat sheet will not give you an indication of whom experts expect him to be. Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz offered his own thoughts recently:
There’s no doubt he’s speed – he has speed. But his rush is really a power, bend, hands, just core – and he’s got the speed. That’s where we’ve got to develop with him – using that speed and developing it even further. Because right now … And the way Penn State plays, they do a lot of read [and] run, [then] convert to pass. That’s a lot of what we do, and that fits us.
Needless to say, the Ravens are expecting Oweh to develop into the best pass rusher they have had since Suggs in his prime, even if they have had some intermediate success with some of the aforementioned players who have managed to land big contracts elsewhere.
But it is worth noting that they haven’t recorded a 40-sack season in either of the past two years. In fact, they only have two since 2014, and the highest then was 43 in 2018. One would think that they should be able to put up better sack totals with the strength of their secondary.
Oweh, and perhaps Hayes, can help solve that riddle as they work their way into the mix with Bowser, Ferguson, and the veteran McPhee. Which is fine, just as long as they don’t do it too often against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted Oweh’s college teammate in tight end Pat Freiermuth.