Fri, 07 May 2021

Draft Experts Weigh in on Ravens' Pass Rush Options

Baltimore Ravens
17 Apr 2021, 05:25 GMT+10

Ryan Mink

While the Ravens reportedly hosted veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston this week, that hasn't put a damper on the talk that Baltimore could draft an edge rusher in the first round.

The free-agent losses of Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue have clearly created a need and there will likely be a handful of talented edge rushers still on the board during the back stretch of the first round.

So who could land in Baltimore?

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks talked about the first-round pass rushers on "The Lounge" podcast recently and gave their takes on the class, who fits best with Baltimore's defense, and who might be there for the Ravens to choose from.

Here are the possibilities:

Kwity Paye, Michigan

Paye is the highest-ranked pass rusher on most analyst boards, including ESPN's, where he comes in at No. 18 overall. He's a strong, explosive athlete who stands in at just over 6-foot-2, but tips the scales at 261 pounds. Born in a refugee camp in the Republic of Guinea, Paye's mother fled war-torn Libera with her two sons to move to Rhode Island. Paye found football and plays like every snap might be his last. Paye didn't have big-time college production (11.5 career sacks), but part of that was because his tremendous versatility left him playing inside a fair amount. His upside is high based on his raw athleticism, competitive drive, and motor.

"The guy who would make the most sense from that [perfect fit] standpoint is Kwity Paye, just because of how hard he plays, how physical he is," Jeremiah said. "He makes a lot of sense."

Jaelan Phillips, Miami

Phillips was the nation's top recruit at his position coming out of high school in California and landed at local UCLA. However, multiple concussions derailed his career there, leading him to medically retire from football. He sat out a year and enrolled at Los Angeles City College to pursue his other passion of music. But Phillips missed football too much, so he decided to transfer and return at Miami.

With a second crack at football, the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder showed his immense talent, logging eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in eight games. Phillips followed it up with an eye-popping Pro Day performance in which he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds.

"I think the best of the group is Jaelan Phillips," Brooks said. "Jaelan Phillips is an explosive athlete with maybe the most polished hand skills of the group."

"I love Jaelan Phillips if he were there. Whether he will be is very debatable; I think he could go in that 17-23 range, but he also, because of the durability concern, could drop a little further than that," Kiper said. "I think Phillips is the guy right now to watch for the Ravens. ... I really think he would override any wide receiver."

Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

If the Ravens are looking for sacks, Ojulari may be the best at delivering. He had big-time production with 14 career sacks, including 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in just 10 games this season. Ojulari is extremely fast coming off the edge, showing the ability to turn the corner and get to quarterbacks on a regular basis. He's often been compared to Ngakoue for his pure speed and pass-rush ability off the edge.

The son of Nigerian immigrants, Ojulari also gets high praise on his character (he was the only freshman captain under Kirby Smart). At a little over 6-foot-2 and 249 pounds, Ojulari doesn't have ideal size for an edge defender, particularly against the run, but he still can play with physicality and is also comfortable dropping into space. While some of the other pass rushers in the equation have major question marks, Ojulari checks the boxes.

"He's a natural fit in their 3-4 defense. He's a fit because he has explosive first-step quickness and burst. He's a little bit of a one-trick pony as a pass rusher because he relies heavily on his speed to bend the corner and round it and get to the quarterback. With that said, there's nothing wrong with having a fastball that's unhittable," Brooks said.

"As he continues to maybe add a counter-pitch to his repertoire, he could be a problem. He could be a difference-maker on the edge. In Baltimore, I think it works because [Defensive Coordinator] Wink [Martindale] is going to send a bunch of pressures and simulated pressures that create some one-on-one opportunities and he is good enough to win one-on-one when he is matched up on the offensive tackle."

Jayson Oweh, Penn State

Standing in at nearly 6-foot-5 and 257 pounds, Oweh was already considered a freakish athlete in college. Then he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at his Pro Day - which is better than a lot of wide receivers. That hammered home his immense talent and the high ceiling he brings to the position. The problem is he didn't record a single sack last season in seven games and had just seven in three seasons (24 games). He gives maximum effort on the field and shows up a lot on tape, but he didn't get many stats to show for it. Kiper called him the "most fascinating defensive player in the draft."

"They've always been an organization that values production. When you look at Jayson Oweh, this flies in the face of that. He didn't have a sack this year, as everybody knows. But to me, while the production might not be there, the disruption is," said Jeremiah, who projected Oweh to the Ravens in his latest mock draft.

"He's somebody that just creates a lot of havoc - unique with his size-speed combination, he can collapse the pocket, you see him convert speed to power, which is huge. He plays really, really hard. You add on top of that the character stuff is off the charts. He's not a finished product, he still needs to develop a plan as a rusher. But to me, the canvass you have to work with is really, really good."

Gregory Rousseau, Miami

Rousseau is intriguing because he had 15.5 sacks as a freshman in 2019 - second only to Ohio State's Chase Young - before opting out last season. At 6-foot-6, 266 pounds, he's still more of a projection at this point, but has a high ceiling. Rousseau did not have a great Pro Day performance, but he's gotten a stamp of approval from Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell.

"The guy that gets left out but is interesting is Gregory Rousseau and how they view him in the building," Brooks said. "I would say Gregory Rousseau is a guy that reminds me a lot of Jason Pierre-Paul when he was coming out of South Florida. If you go and look at their Pro Day numbers, they are exactly the same."

"If you want to talk about just the size, the length, the production, it's off the charts," Jeremiah said. "(His) Pro Day wasn't great. I know some people are killing him on that because he looked real stiff. But he's got burst, he's got length, he's got production. That's a pretty good trio."

Zaven Collins, Tulsa

Collins is more of a hybrid linebacker who could play inside or on the edge. He's 6-foot-4, 259 pounds and stood out in coverage, where he had four interceptions and six passes defenses last season, to go along with four sacks. The Ravens don't have as much of a need at inside linebacker, but Collins' versatility is alluring for a defensive that likes position flexibility.

"When I was looking for comps for him, he was a taller A.D. - Adalius Thomas. That's who he reminded me of," Jeremiah said. "Adalius moved around in Baltimore with Rex able to make that all work. Then New England paid him a bunch of money and tried to plug him in and it didn't work. I think Zaven is a very special talent, I love his versatility, but in terms of that short-area quickness stuff as an off-the-ball linebacker, he's going to be lacking a little bit, and then on the edge, is he going to be violent and physical enough to hold up there?"

Joe Tryon, Washington

Tryon also opted out last year after posting eight sacks in 2019. At 6-foot-5, 259 pounds, he's still very quick off the snap and fast to track down ball-carriers. He's still raw in some parts of his game, but plays with high effort.

"I don't know that a lot of people are as high on him as I am. Maybe it's a scenario where Eric [DeCosta] is able to trade back a little bit, get some extra picks, and take him in the 30s," Jeremiah said. "To me, he has production, he has the size and the length and that big frame you want at the position, and he can play with some power. That one matches up pretty well with, historically, what the Ravens have looked at."

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