The Baltimore Ravens got a pleasant surprise during their Week 1 win over the New York Jets. It came in the form of a former third-round pick who appears to finally be “clicking” at the start of his third season in the NFL.
This so-far disappointing defensive tackle earned the top grade for the Ravens during Sunday’s 24-9 win. It was a performance that earned high praise from a six-time Pro-Bowler, who credited the unheralded third-year pro with playing “at an All-Pro level.”
He did so by establishing himself as a force against both the run and the pass. In the process, this surprising turn provided a massive boost for a defensive front reshuffled and remade this offseason.
3rd-Year DT Dominated vs. the Jets
Justin Madubuike has kept the Ravens waiting for a breakout performance. Drafted 71st overall in 2020, Madubuike started just 14 games through his first two years.
If game one of his third season is anything to go by, Madubuike is ready to be a force in this campaign. He rated one of the 10 most surprising performances from the opening week, according to Pro Football Focus’ Marcus Mosher: “On 43 defensive snaps, he was able to total five pressures and three stops. He was the highest-graded player of the day for the Ravens and earned the fourth-best overall grade among interior defensive linemen in Week 1. After two so-so years in the NFL, it appears things are clicking for the former Texas A&M star.”
The upsurge in production was to Madubuike’s credit, but it also owed a lot to a few schematic tweaks. Those tweaks, made by defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and line coach Anthony Weaver, have been highlighted by Spencer N. Schultz of SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown:
Plays like this prompted Calais Campbell to hype up his fellow lineman, per Ravens.com Editorial Director Ryan Mink:
Campbell knows a thing or two about playing like an All-Pro. He earned the distinction in 2017 and went on to garner one of his six Pro-Bowl nods three years later as a member of the Ravens.
The 36-year-old remains the leader of Baltimore’s D-line, but the elder statesman has been helped by the Ravens’ recent efforts to get younger and quicker up front.
Defensive Line Changes Showed Up in Week 1
One of the changes the Ravens made was to treat something old as something new again. This meant bringing Michael Pierce back from the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.
The 29-year-old nose tackle graded almost as highly as Madubuike, per PFF BAL Ravens:
Pierce returning to the fold was just part of a subtle overhaul of the trenches this offseason. The process also involved selecting UConn tackle Travis Jones in the third round.
Jones didn’t play in Week 1 while he continues to recover from a preseason knee injury. As promising a talent as he is, Jones wasn’t missed because Pierce and Madubuike picked up the slack.
Even a fifth-round pick from 2020, Broderick Washington Jr., got on the field to play 34 snaps, according to Pro Football Reference. Like Madubuike, Washington Jr. made sure the Ravens’ draft class from two years ago was strongly represented in the box score, per Jonas Shaffer of The Baltimore Sun:
Young linemen like Madubuike, Washington Jr. and Jones represent the next generation the Ravens are counting on to man the fort once veterans like Campbell, Pierce and 31-year-old Brent Urban are done.
The early signs bode well the Ravens’ defensive front will weather the transition and remain stout.