Ravens Position Spotlight: Inside LinebackerPosted on May 28, 2014 by Rob Michels
The inside linebacker position for the Ravens was held down by Ray Lewis for seventeen seasons. Daryl Smith did an adequate job replacing Lewis last year and this season we should see a trio of backers manning the middle. Smith should have a starting spot locked up on the strong side but the weak side will be a competition. Last year’s second round pick Arthur Brown and this year’s first round pick CJ Mosley should dual it out. Either way the middle linebacker position is a real strength for the Ravens and the trio of Smith, Mosley and Brown should work out well.
A three man rotation could be used for the upcoming 2014 season. Let’s take a look at what all three do well and where they could improve.
Smith was signed by the Ravens last year to help replace Ray Lewis. He came into camp with injury concerns as well as a 31 year old NFL body. He is the all-time leading tackler for the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise but he was viewed to be on the decline. Ravens fans never thought he’d end up being one of the most underrated free agent signings of the offseason. Smith quickly earned his wings on the Ravens defense.
You could argue that Smith had a career year. He led the Ravens with 123 tackles as well as 3 interceptions to go with 5 sacks. He also broke Lewis’s franchise record for pass break ups by a linebacker with 19. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith graded out with a positive grade in ten of sixteen games as well as being ranked as the 16th best inside linebacker in the league.
Smith has his flaws in his game. This is where the rotation with Brown and Mosley could come into play. According to PFF, Smith graded out with an 8.8 pass coverage grade but saw a -13.1 grade in run defense.
The best fit for Smith is to use him in nickel and dime packages. He is an outstanding cover linebacker who has the ability to play zone and cover tight ends. He also excels as a pass rusher in the middle of the defense. The problem is he really struggles against the run and at this point in his career isn’t a three down backer.
Smith is a leader for this defense but would have an excellent season as a rotational linebacker.
Unlike Smith there was no winning over the fans for Brown. When drafted in the second round he was viewed as the future replacement for Lewis. The 2013 season was a learning experience for Brown. He should be more prepared to make in impact in 2014.
Brown’s season didn’t start off great with a sports hernia injury which required surgery after rookie minicamp. From there he fell behind on the depth chart, battling Josh Bynes and Jameel McClain for snaps. Overall Brown saw 211 snaps on defense in 14 games which amounted to only 22% of the Ravens defensive snaps.
A limited work load makes it’s hard to known what Brown truly brings to the table in the NFL. He is athletic and takes on blocks well which could help him work into an every down backer in the future.
With an entire offseason ahead and coming into this season healthy Brown should see his snaps sky rocket. He should get a chance on special teams early and work his way into the starting defense. Even with the addition of Mosley, Brown should have an immediate impact this season and in the future for the Ravens.
Mosley replaces Brown as the heir to Lewis. He’s a gifted linebacker that should excel against the run as well as pass. He is very athletic proving that at his pro day by running a 4.63 forty and jumping 35 inches on the vertical.
At Alabama, Mosley was a captain of the defense and was awarded the Butkus Award for top college linebacker. Injuries were a concern at Alabama and some saw a potential drop in the draft because of that. The Ravens felt that Mosley was the best player on the board at seventeen and jumped on it.
"He's fast, instinctive, tough, smart, talented, a playmaker," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said regarding Mosley. "People always ask about the best available player and what that means. He was the best available player on our board and he would have been the best available player on our board at 10. He's a great football player."
Like Brown it’s hard to judge how good a player Mosley will be because of the workload. Most scouts see a bright future for him and should quickly become a leader for the Ravens defense. Mosley right now has skill set to be an immediate Pro Bowl linebacker.
With a trio of Smith, Brown and Mosley the Ravens cover a lot of strengths at inside linebacker. A rotation of the three would be a great defensive plan and really play to each player’s strengths. Before long I expect Mosley to take over as the top linebacker and play all three downs. Brown will see the field more often with Smith being used in dime and nickel packages. If one of the three were to lose out on snaps this year I think it’ll be Smith by seasons end. He is just too much of a liability in the run game. The future at inside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens is a tandem of Mosley and Brown.