The departure of veteran outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith have cleared the way for fourth year edge defender Matt Judon to be the veteran leader. Judon is coming off a year in which he posted seven sacks (tied with Suggs for 2nd behind Z. Smith 8.5 sacks) and 10 tackles for a loss to go with 20 quarterback hits for Baltimore.
Even though Suggs and Smith are gone, Judon doesn't feel pressure to step up as the next great Ravens defender. Judon isn't concerned about their departure. He is focused on playing good football and letting the chips fall where they may.
"If the team follows me, I'll lead. I feel like you have to play well for someone to follow...for the Ravens, it's an identity. It's a process. We all took that process," Judon said on NFL Network's Good Morning America. "It's unfortunate that we lost those guys but we have to replace and rebuild. With these players leaving we have young guys that can step up."
Baltimore selected Judon in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He was the third pass rusher the Ravens picked that year. The other two— (Kamalei Correa, 2nd round) and (Bronson Kaufusi, 3rd round)— are no longer with the team.
The Ravens have continued to address the edge rusher position by taking Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams in recent drafts. Head coach John Harbaugh feels the cupboard is definitely not bare but he specifically pointed out Judon as the player he expects to make a leap this year.
"We have pass rushers, guys that we really like. But Matt Judon, he's proven himself and has to take the next step. He's very determined to do that. I have high expectations for Matt. I'm a believer in his work ethic and I want to see him go. I believe he will," Harbaugh said at the owner's meetings in April.
The defensive front will get time to rush the quarterback. It will be hard for opposing pass catchers to get open, thanks to Baltimore's top level secondary that was bolstered by the addition of safety Earl Thomas. Although sacks are an important statistic, it's equally as important to pressure the quarterback into putting the ball in harm's way when your secondary has a ball hawk like Thomas roaming the field. As shown by the 20-quarterback hits he made last season, pressuring the quarterback is a calling card for Judon.
He grew up as a Miami Dolphins fan and patterns his game after Hall of Fame defensive end Jason Taylor. Like Taylor, Judon uses his length to attack off the edge. If he can be anywhere near the type of player that Taylor was for Miami, the Ravens will be able to maintain their identity as a top-level defensive team.