Bolstered by a pair of veteran free-agent additions and a trio of early-round draft picks, coach John Harbaugh fully expects the Ravens to “put a great defense on the field” in 2017.
Four months removed from signing a $54 million contract extension, star nose tackle Brandon Williams is willing to go a step further, suggesting this year’s defense has the potential to reach the heights of the Ray Lewis era in Baltimore.
“The defense that is being built in Baltimore is one of the best,” Williams told The Reynolds Report, via Gridiron Magazine. “We’re going to do something really special this year, I can feel it. Our defense is amazing.”
The 2016 Ravens finished seventh in total defense and sixth in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency ratings. Before Tom Brady shredded the shaky secondary for a season-high 406 passing yards in mid-December, Baltimore actually boasted the league’s top-ranked defense.
Now that the Ravens have shored up that secondary with first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey and the steady veteran tandem of Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr, Williams has set his sights on the shutdown Super Bowl champions of 2000, one of the greatest defenses of all time.
“The bar set by our defense is already very high and our goal is to notch it up even more,” Williams explained. “The defense that helped us win that 2000 Super Bowl is the standard and every year we’re trying to reach and surpass that standard. We’re never satisfied and we always want to get better.”
As easy as it is to see why Williams and Harbaugh are excited about their prospects this season, it’s worth noting that the offseason additions may have been offset by the losses of Zach Orr, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy and Tavon Young.
The wild card in the equation is the host of unproven draft picks assuming greater responsibility this season.
A quintet of Brent Urban (2014 fourth round), Carl Davis (2015 third round), Bronson Kaufusi (2016 third round), Willie Henry (2016 fourth round) and Chris Wormsley (2017 third round) will vie for playing time alongside Williams and promising second-year nose tackle Michael Pierce on the defensive line.
Kamalei Correa, a 2016 second-round pick, is the leading candidate to replace Orr next to C.J. Mosley at inside linebacker. A pair of 2017 selections, Tyus Bowser (second round) and Tim Williams (third round), will team with Za’Darius Smith (2014 fourth round) and Matt Judon (2016 fifth round) in a pass rushing rotation designed to complement defensive leader Terrell Suggs.
On paper, this is a deep and talented defense. To meet expectations, though, the Ravens need a handful of those homegrown draft picks to emerge as reliable week-to-week contributors this season.