Ravens: Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown and Depth-Chart Analysis

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIJuly 9, 2014

Ravens: Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown and Depth-Chart Analysis

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens must rely heavily on their defense if they are to get back to the playoffs in 2014. Baltimore ranked 29th in total offense and 30th in rushing offense last year while also allowing the fourth-most sacks (48) of any team.

    However, the Ravens defense performed well and was one of the team's bright spots in 2014. That unit ranked 12th in yards per game, passing yards per game and points per game allowed. It also ranked 11th in rushing yards per game allowed.

    Based on the moves made in free agency and in the NFL draft, the defense will likely be Baltimore's biggest strength this year.

    Here is a look at every defensive position on Baltimore's roster, as well as what the defensive depth chart looks like as of now.

Defensive Tackle

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    1. Brandon Williams
    2. Timmy Jernigan
    3. Jamie Meder
    4. Levi Brown

    One of the best players the Ravens lost this offseason was defensive tackle Arthur Jones. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave him a plus-15.7 grade, the third-best mark of any Ravens player.

    He left in free agency to sign with the Indianapolis Colts. The only player behind him on the depth chart when he left was Brandon Williams, who played just 93 snaps last year compared to Jones' 529.

    That leaves a big opportunity to compete for playing time for second-rounder Timmy Jernigan. The 6'2", 300-pound Jernigan had 108 tackles (19 for a loss) and six sacks over the past two seasons for the Seminoles.

    Jernigan played nose tackle in college. However, that's where Haloti Ngata, a five-time All-Pro selection, is currently slated to start for Baltimore. In order to get Jernigan onto the field extensively as a rookie, he could be moved to one of the other two defensive line spots in the Ravens' 3-4 defense.

    According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, the Ravens are considering moving Jernigan to defensive tackle:

    There's a starting job open on the left side of the defensive line, and Jernigan is among the top candidates along with Brandon Williams, DeAngelo Tyson and Kapron Lewis-Moore.

    Tyson and Lewis-Moore are also getting looks at defensive end, which is where I'm projecting them in this article. That would leave Jernigan and Williams to battle for the starting spot.

    As for Jamie Meder and Levi Brown, they are undrafted free-agent rookies who likely won't make the 53-man roster but could be signed to the practice squad.

Nose Tackle

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press
    1. Haloti Ngata
    2. Terrence Cody
    3. Derrick Hopkins

    Nose tackle Haloti Ngata is one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL, and a starting spot for him on the Ravens defensive line is guaranteed. Terrence Cody will be his likely backup at nose tackle.

    Ngata is one of the best in the game at anchoring the interior of the defensive line. That keeps the linebackers free to make tackles at or close to the line of scrimmage.

    He's also consistently in opponents' backfields, as evidenced by his 52 tackles last year, a high mark for any interior defensive lineman.

    As for Cody, he'll only go in if Ngata needs a rest or is injured. The 340-pounder played in only 240 snaps last year as a backup.

    Then there's the 6'0", 314-pound Derrick Hopkins, an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech. He played in 13 games with nine tackles, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries in 2013.

    With the Ravens being stacked along the defensive line, Hopkins will likely be just a training-camp body, but he could earn a spot on the practice squad if he performs well in training camp and in the preseason.

Defensive End

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    1. Chris Canty
    2. DeAngelo Tyson
    3. Brent Urban

    The starting defensive end spot will initially be manned by Chris Canty. He played in 15 games in 2013, starting in 13 of them.

    Canty played in 579 snaps, compared to projected backup DeAngelo Tyson's 153 snaps. Tyson will likely battle rookie fourth-rounder Brent Urban for playing time behind Canty.

    In 2013 with Virginia, Urban was an All-ACC Honorable Mention pick after starting eight games (he missed four due to leg injury) and collecting nine pass breakups.

    The 6'7", 295-pounder could eventually challenge for the starting end spot, but he'll likely be relegated to backup status as a rookie.

Outside Linebacker

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press
    1. Terrell Suggs
    2. Elvis Dumervil
    3. Courtney Upshaw
    4. John Simon
    5. Pernell McPhee

    In Baltimore's 3-4 defense, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have both of the outside linebacker spots locked up. The two combined to form one of the NFL's best pass-rushing duos.

    According to Pro Football Focus, both had 10 sacks apiece, while Dumervil notched 40 QB hurries compared to Suggs' 37. Those two are what make the Ravens defense so intimidating.

    As for the backups, Courtney Upshaw, John Simon and Pernell McPhee will compete for playing time at outside linebacker. McPhee played in 340 snaps and had 15 QB hurries.

    Upshaw was like a starter as often as he was on the field. He played in 650 snaps but got just 11 QB hurries. He needs to be more productive with the amount of playing time he gets or risk losing snaps to McPhee this year.

    As for Simon, he played in just three snaps last year as a rookie. He'll have a tough time earning more snaps in year two.

Inside Linebacker

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    1. Daryl Smith
    2. C.J. Mosley
    3. Arthur Brown
    4. Josh Bynes
    5. Albert McClellan

    The Ravens have plenty of depth at inside linebacker after selecting Alabama's C.J. Mosley with their first-round pick. In 2013, Mosley won the Butkus Award as the top linebacker in college football and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

    He started all 13 games at inside linebacker and was Bama's leading tackler with 108 stops, nine tackles for loss and five pass breakups.

    The Ravens utilize a 3-4 defense that features two inside linebackers, and Mosley is expected to compete with 2012 second-rounder Arthur Brown for the starting job at weak-side inside linebacker.

    He's probably not beating out the starting strong-side 'backer, Daryl Smith, who led the Ravens in tackles last season and signed a new four-year, $16 million deal this offseason.

    Baltimore took Arthur Brown out of Kansas State in the second round of last year's draft (after trading up to get him) to do just that. The fact that it took Mosley in the first round could signal it's already losing faith in Brown.

    After all, Brown played in just 211 snaps as a rookie. Mosley believes his coaches are confident in him enough to start him as a rookie, per Mark Inabinett of AL.com:

    The coaches feel comfortable with the way I'm playing and comfortable enough that I know the defense," he said. "It's all about how I feel right now, and I feel like I'm doing a great job. ...

    "The competition is real tight in our linebacker room, and that's a good thing because it's going to make us all work. At the end of the day, the best player is going to be on the field. Hopefully, come Week 1, if I do the right things, that will be me.

    I expect Mosley to beat out Brown for the other starting inside linebacker spot next to Smith. Brown will then be left to fight Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan for backup snaps.

    Bynes actually started the first six games at inside linebacker last year but was benched the next nine games due to his poor performance.

    McClellan played in just five snaps last year, so don't expect much from him.

Cornerback

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press
    1. Lardarius Webb
    2. Jimmy Smith
    3. Chykie Brown
    4. Asa Jackson
    5. Dominique Franks
    6. Aaron Ross
    7. Avery Patterson
    8. Sammy Seamster

    The Ravens will start Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith at cornerback, with Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown being the primary backups behind them. Webb and Smith are two solid starters, but there's not much behind them.

    Brown played in just 39 snaps in 2013, though he's expected to take on a bigger role this season. Jackson was only used on special teams, and there's been nothing to suggest he'll do anything more than that in 2014.

    That led Baltimore to sign Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks this offseason.

    Ross has played in the NFL for seven seasons and has 11 career interceptions and 41 passes defended. Ross was with the New York Giants last year, but he was placed on the injured reserve list in October after sustaining a back injury.

    As for Franks, he has 30 career tackles, three interceptions and nine passes defended in four NFL seasons. He played as a backup corner for the Atlanta Falcons last year, and he has just four career starts in four seasons.

    After that, two undrafted free agents will compete for roster spots and possible playing time. Avery Patterson and Sammy Seamster were two quality cornerback prospects who didn't hear their names called during the NFL draft.

Strong Safety

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    USA TODAY Sports
    1. Matt Elam
    2. Anthony Levine
    3. Omar Brown
    4. Brynden Trawick

    The Ravens have good depth at safety following the NFL draft, but they're lacking players with significant starting experience.

    Matt Elam started 15 games at free safety last year as a rookie, and he'll likely be moving to his more natural strong safety spot this coming season.

    That's because James Ihedigbo, who started every game at strong safety last year, signed with the Detroit Lions this offseason in free agency.

    Ihedigbo notched 101 tackles, grabbed three interceptions and deflected 11 passes as Baltimore's starting strong safety. He also received a plus-4.7 grade from Pro Football Focus.

    As for Elam, he played out of position at free safety, so it will benefit him to move to strong safety.

    Omar Brown, Anthony Levine and Brynden Trawick will compete for probably one or two more roster spots that will be used for strong safeties.

    All three of those guys have at least two years of NFL experience but haven't seen the field much. They have been primarily used on special teams.

    If none of those three can be an adequate backup, it's possible rookie third-rounder Terrence Brooks could play some strong safety. However, he's fighting for the starting free safety spot.

Free Safety

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    1. Darian Stewart
    2. Terrence Brooks
    3. Jeromy Miles

    At free safety, there's a little more uncertainty than there is at strong safety, which I touched on last week:

    ...rookie third-round pick Terrence Brooks figures to enter training camp this summer in a battle with...Darian Stewart for the vacant starting safety spot. 

    Stewart signed with the Ravens this offseason after being a backup most of his career with the St. Louis Rams. He has started 19 games over four seasons (six in 2013), which means he's the most experienced safety on the roster. 

    That leaves Stewart with a great chance to earn a starting spot.

    According to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com, Stewart looks like the early favorite to start at free safety based on his performances in OTAs

    Despite, Stewart's slight lead, he'll have the rookie Brooks nipping at his heels.

    Last year, Brooks started 13 games (five at free safety, eight at strong safety) for the 2013 BCS champion Seminoles. He notched 56 tackles and two more interceptions, helping a unit that led the nation in scoring against (12.1 points per game) and passing defense (156.6 yards per game).

    As for Jeromy Miles, he's a career backup who has played for the Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, mostly on special teams. Brooks and Stewart are going to get the bulk of snaps at free safety.

    It might actually be best not to start Brooks. Because he can play both safety spots, he could still play a lot if he's backing up both spots.

    If he starts at free safety, though, he's locked into that one spot. Being versatile could make him more valuable to this defense.

     

    Advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).