Bold predictions for Ravens rookies expected to start or contribute: Justin Madubuike
The Baltimore Ravens are expecting major contributions from several members of their 10-man rookie class. At least seven of them competed for starting spots in training camp and will have significant roles in their inaugural seasons. Despite not having any semblance of a real offseason due to COVID-19, many of them have stood out and impressed coaches and teammates alike in training camp.
While it is a tall task to ask or expect first-year players to hit the ground running and become immediate difference-maker let alone stars from the jump in a normal year, here is the third edition of the bold production predictions series for some of the rookies that are expected to be starters or at least key contributors in year one.
DT Justin Madubuike records six or more sacks
The Ravens reshaped and reloaded the interior of their defensive line this offseason by breaking the mold of adding additional multigap eating run stuffers and stockpiling more athletic and versatile defenders in the trenches that excel at defending the run and bring more of a pass-rushing presence.
Baltimore let massive nose tackle Michael Pierce walk in free agency to greener pastures Minnesota on a three-year deal worth $27 million, while they acquired five-time Pro Calais Campbell via trade from the Jaguars for a mere fifth-round pick and then brought in Derek Wolfe on a one year deal in free agency after their deal in principle with Michael Brockers fell through.
In the draft, the Ravens added a pair of interior defensive linemen that could develop into starters one day but for now, add immediate depth behind Campbell and Wolfe who are the projected to start alongside Pro Bowler Brandon Williams who will be returning to his natural position at nose tackle following Pierce’s departure.
With the first of their four picks in the third round, they selected Justin Madubuike out of Texas A&M with and doubled with Broderick Washington Jr out pf Texas Tech in the fifth round. Madubuike is the focus of this piece and could become a factor in the Ravens defensive line rotation as a situational pass rusher.
I’m predicting that he records more than his college career-high in sacks in a single season which would be at least six even though I don’t foresee him making a single start unless that Ravens have the division and their playoff seed wrapped up before the season finale for a second straight year or an injury were to occur (knock on wood).
According to the team’s first official depth chart he is listed as the second-string defensive tackle or a.k.a the three-technique spot behind Campbell with Washington behind him in the third slot. At 6-foot-3 and 293 pounds with a lean build, Madubuike’s frame isn’t the only trait that most closely resembles Campbell’s who is five inches taller and seven pounds heavier at 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds.
He is also a gifted interior pass rusher that can use his length and a greater understanding of leverage that he continuously is soaking up from mentor and veteran comparison to help boost the Ravens pass rush by providing more interior pressure.
The value of having defensive linemen that can generate interior pressure has gone up significantly over the last decade with players like Campbell, Ndamukong Suh, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, and JJ Watt trailblazing the path for players like Aaron Donald and Chris Jones to be the game wreaking and handsomely compensated stars they have blossomed into today.
Their ability to collapse the pocket up the middle of the offensive line not only disrupts the timing and execution of passing plays before they’ve had a chance to develop but it also flushes opposing quarterbacks out of the pocket into the arms of an edge defender for a sack or force them to throw the ball away or even into the grasps of a second or third level defender.
Campbell has already been a tremendous resource both rookies and took them under his wing during training camp when they got their first taste of life in the NFL after a completely virtual offseason program where there were no minicamps or OTAs held. He was even caught on camera during a wired segment via the team’s official website giving Madubuike advice on how to be more violent and active with his hands when shedding blocks and setting up pass rush moves and counter moves.
Under the tutelage of Campbell and renowned defensive line coach Joe Cullen, the rookie could come on as a key rotational player on the defense as the year goes on. He recorded 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in his last two collegiate seasons for the Aggies including pair of 5.5 sack campaigns.
While he might start the year off a little slow out of the blocks since he’s recently missed some practice time with a soft tissue injury, look for him to heat up as the season progress and he gains more coaching and experience.
Total production prediction: 35 total tackles including eight for a loss, 6.5 sacks (the same number Campbell had in 2019 that is was considered a down year by his standards), 12 quarterback hits, three pass deflections, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.