Ravens Can Replace Justin Houston With Former No. 1 Overall Pick

Justin Houston

Getty The Baltimore Ravens can replace edge-rusher Justin Houston with a former No. 1 pick who's still a free agent.

Free agency’s final wave gives the Baltimore Ravens the chance to fix one of the few remaining suspect position groups on the roster. Namely, edge-rusher, where depth is weak amid rumors last season’s sack leader Justin Houston is generating interest from around the NFL.

Fortunately, the Ravens could replace Houston with a former first-overall draft pick. Jadeveon Clowney remains on the market and would give Baltimore “another potential playmaker to pressure the AFC’s many elite quarterbacks, including Joe Burrow and perhaps Deshaun Watson in their division,” according to The 33rd Team’s Jeff Diamond.

Clowney’s production was down with the Cleveland Browns in 2022, but Diamond believes “if he is healthy and highly motivated (especially to beat the Browns in the AFC North), he can still be very productive at 30.”

It’s worth the Ravens taking a flier to find out what Clowney has left in the tank. Or else head coach John Harbaugh will be taking a risk second-year pro David Ojabo and inconsistent Odafe Oweh can make major progress this season.

2014 No. 1 Pick Needs to Get Back on Track

Clowney’s production fell from nine sacks in 2021 to just two last season. He still produced 12 pressures and seven hurries, per Pro Football Reference.

While the sack numbers won’t ever wow anybody, Clowney has made a happy habit of creating big plays by keeping constant pressure on the pocket. It’s what he did during a busy performance against the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, detailed by Next Gen Stats.

Clowney was then a member of the Seattle Seahawks, playing in a hybrid defensive front that mixed 3-4 and 4-3 looks. That’s roughly the same as what the Ravens do with their front seven under defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald.

He’d be able to use Clowney as a standup outside linebacker or as a traditional defensive end in a three-point stance. Clowney still creates pressure from the latter alignment, something highlighted by Aaron Day of DLineVids.

Few franchises know the value of versatile, veteran pass-rushers quite like the Ravens. Houston, 34, led the team with 9.5 sacks last season, while fellow 30-something Jason Pierre-Paul chipped in with three quarterback takedowns of his own.

Both Houston and Pierre-Paul are free agents, but Clowney would seamlessly step into the role they shared. Just as important, Clowney would also add value against the run, thanks to a well-earned reputation for being stout on the ground ever since he was drafted first overall by the Houston Texans in 2014.

He recorded eight run stuffs, according to ESPN, to go with four tackles for loss, in 2022. The Ravens need to remain strong against the run in a division loaded with tough running backs like Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon and Najee Harris.

Clowney’s ability to be an impact player in both phases of defense makes him worth what Diamond called “a creative contract” from the Ravens. Salary cap space totalling $12,381,907 is more than enough for general manager Eric DeCosta to make a deal happen and ensure Macdonald still has some star power on the edge.

Ravens Must Beef Up Edge Rotation

Houston looks unlikely to return after a source told Heavy’s Senior NFL Reporter Matt Lombardo the four-time Pro-Bowler is drawing “significant interest.” Houston’s absence would increase the pressure on Ojabo and Oweh to deliver.

The latter has mustered only eight sacks since being drafted in the first round in 2021. Yet, the 24-year-old is bullish about his chances of converting pressures into splash plays more often, telling reporters: “A lot of times I was close, but it lets me know that when it does click and when everything goes how I want it to, I’m going to soar.”

Oweh will be more effective if offenses are forced to pay more attention to Ojabo. The Ravens’ second-round pick a year ago missed most of his rookie campaign after tearing his Achilles at Michigan’s pro day, but Ojabo finished strongly by notching a sack against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular-season finale.

Ojabo and Oweh can make strides, but their progress will run smoother if there’s a proven commodity like Clowney lending support.

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