Ravens Lose Veteran Linebacker to Season-Ending Injury: Report

Getty Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor makes a tackle against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker L.J. Fort suffered a torn ACL in Saturday’s preseason victory over the Carolina Panthers, head coach John Harbaugh confirmed on Monday, August 23.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport first reported Fort’s diagnosis, which will sideline the veteran linebacker for the 2021 season.

The injury is the latest to a Ravens team that has seen several on both offense and defense during the preseason.

Fort started eight games in each of the last two seasons in Baltimore, finishing 2020 as Pro Football Focus’s ninth-highest-rated linebacker, with a 78.6 run defense grade that was fourth in the league. His veteran presence is especially valuable on special teams, where Fort played 57% of the Ravens’ snaps in 2019 and 63% in 2020.

The Ravens chose not to pick up Fort’s option for 2021, but re-signed the eight-year veteran to a one-year, $1.1 million contract in April, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic.

Fort was a virtual lock to make the Ravens’ 53-man roster at the end of the preseason, so his injury will force the Ravens to either promote from within or look elsewhere for additional support at linebacker.

Ravens Look for Depth at Linebacker

Fort’s torn ACL is disappointing but not devastating to a strong Ravens’ defense that has dominated in the team’s first two preseason games.

The Ravens will need to replace his rotational snaps on defense and find someone to fill his role on special teams.

Second-year Ravens Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison are listed as the team’s starters at inside linebacker on the current depth chart, with Chris Board, Kristian Welch and Otara Alaka behind them.

Harrison only played 25% of the Ravens’ defensive snaps last year, but that number was already expected to rise after a full offseason with the team. Now, with Fort out for the season, his role will increase even more, with the Ravens’ other ILBs getting more playing time as well.

Harbaugh indicated that he’s confident in the Ravens’ current linebackers, telling media this morning, “We’ve got really good depth. We’ll be in good shape at linebacker.”

Board will be first in line for more snaps on defense, while Welch and Alaka will try to earn a spot on the team through special teams play.

The Ravens like Welch on special teams, according to Zrebiec. The former Iowa Hawkeye played 41% of the team’s special teams snaps in just 10 games last year.

Alaka is still recovering from a knee injury, which could limit his ability to make the initial 53-man roster, though he is a candidate to make the practice squad as an insurance policy in case another linebacker gets hurt.

Ravens Could Look Elsewhere for LB Depth

Though Harbaugh seemed confident that the Ravens’ had enough linebacker depth on the roster, their young ILB room could use another veteran as Queen and Harrison continue to develop.

There are a few free agents that could fit the bill, with more potentially available in the coming days and weeks as other teams make their roster cuts.

Two former Ravens could be candidates to come back to Baltimore: Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor.

Bynes won Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens after he signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He left the team in 2014, returning for one season in 2019 before having a career year with the Cincinnati Bengals last year. While he is currently on the Panthers’ roster (and recorded a game-high nine tackles against the Ravens on Saturday), Joseph Person of The Athletic projected him to be cut by Carolina, so the veteran could be available for a third stint in Baltimore.

Onwuasor is currently a free agent after barely seeing the field with the New York Jets last season. ‘Peanut’ played in Baltimore from 2016-2019, including two years under current defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale. His speed and knowledge of the Ravens’ scheme could make him a smart signing.

Former Seattle Seahawk K.J. Wright could also be a target for the Ravens. The 32-year-old veteran finished the 2020 season with a 79.2 coverage grade from PFF, good for seventh among all linebackers.

Whether they go with an already-rostered player or sign a veteran free agent, the Ravens will need someone to step up at linebacker to fill the void left by Fort.

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