The Baltimore Ravens have used a first-round pick on an inside linebacker three times in the 27-year history of the franchise dating back to their inaugural draft in 1996. Ray Lewis was the first that year at No. 26 overall out of Miami and C.J. Mosley was the second at No. 17 overall in 2014 out of Alabama.
Both players enjoyed immediate and sustained success during their tenures with the team. Lewis played his entire career in Baltimore where he established himself as one of the best defenders of all time over the course of a 17-year Hall of Fame Career. Mosley made the Pro Bowl in four of his first five seasons in the league with the Ravens before pricing himself out of town in free agency after his rookie contract expired.
When they selected Patrick Queen at No. 28 overall out of LSU in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Ravens envisioned that he would follow in their footsteps as a playmaking every-down defender. After a standout rookie year in which he started every game, led the team in total tackles, made several splash plays, and received a couple of votes for Defensive Rookie of the Year, he appeared to be on his way.
Unfortunately, he was far less consistent in his second season in the league than his first and was more prone to mistakes, missed tackles, and lapses in coverage. Queen still managed to lead the team in total tackles with 98 and was one of only three players on the entire to appear and start in every game last year for the injury-ravaged Ravens.
His third year with a team or program has always been pivotal throughout Queen’s football career at every level and even though it’s a one-game sample size, he looks to be back on the fast track to stardom and elite playmaker status following a masterful performance in Week 1.
Defense led the way for the Ravens in their 24-9 victory over the New York Jets in the regular season opener on September 11, 2022, and Queen was one of their brightest stars. According to Pro Football Reference, he literally never came off the field having played all 84 defensive snaps and finished with eight total tackles, half a sack, and three quarterback hits.
He remained on the field no matter the down and distance and did everything including dropping into underneath zone coverage, blitzing, and covering running backs in man coverage. The third-year pro earned the right to stay on the field in every situation with his performance in the offseason and practice according to head coach John Harbaugh.
“We were hoping that he would be a three-down linebacker, and he’s earned that during training camp,” Harbaugh said in his Monday press conference on September 12, 2022.
Biggest Areas of Improvement
As mentioned above, the two aspects in Queen’s game where he lacked the most consistency were in coverage and as a tackler. He just didn’t show a natural feel for the passing game or what was going on behind him that many analysts projected would be one of his strengths coming out of college. When it came to tackling, he was one of several Ravens defenders in 2021 that repeatedly wouldn’t wrap up and complete the entire tackling process and often tried to just knock ball carriers off their feet with big hits instead.
Against the Jets, he looked like a whole different player with the way he was not just flying around and generating pressure as a blitzer but Queen consistently made tackles in the open field including in one-on-one coverage, and took away passing lanes or potential targets with his excellent drops and lateral movement.
Key Coaching Factors In Turnaround
One of the biggest changes from Queen’s rookie year to his second that impacted his performance in 2021 came on the coaching staff. In 2020, his position coach was Mike Macdonald who is now the Ravens’ defensive coordinator but last year, as a 34-year-old, got his first opportunity to call plays at the collegiate level with the University of Michigan under Harbaugh’s younger brother Jim. While the Wolverines were thriving and finished as one of the top defenses in college football, Queen appeared to have taken a step back in his development with Rob Ryan in charge of coaching the inside linebackers.
It should come as no surprise that Macdonald’s return has coincided with Queen’s resurgence as he has expressed his excitement for his coach’s return ever since the hire was announced. Another key addition to the coaching staff that has helped him and also happens to be yet another reunion after a one-year hiatus elsewhere is the return of Zach Orr who is now his position coach.
Orr spent last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars serving in the same role and is a former player that once reached Second-Team All-Pro status before a congenital neck injury forced him to retire. He is an invaluable and instrumental resource and relatable role model for Queen and the other young inside linebackers on the roster like Josh Ross and Kristian Welch.