Last season the Ravens tied for fifth in the league in sacks, but the defense is likely to look quite different in 2023.
With some turnover expected in the pass-rushing unit, head coach John Harbaugh said this week that he's expecting two of his recent top draft picks, outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo, to pick up the slack in the upcoming year.
"For those two young outside backers to step up and be part of the mix is critically important," Harbaugh said, via the team’s website. "We were talking about it, and they are excited. They are ready to roll, and I believe in those two guys."
A significant number of the Ravens' 48 sacks last season came courtesy of players who have either already joined another team this offseason or who remain a free agent.
Notably Justin Houston, who led Baltimore with 9.5 sacks, is still on the free-agent market, while Calais Campbell (5.5 sacks) joined the Falcons this week after being released by the Ravens earlier in March. That pair accounted for almost a third of the team's sacks, meaning Baltimore is going to have to replace a good amount of production this season.
While there are some other veteran players still on the roster who can contribute to the effort, Harbaugh emphasized that the emergence of the Oweh-Ojabo duo will be essential to continue pressuring passers at the rate that the Ravens did in 2022.
Ojabo had collected 11 sacks and a program-record five forced fumbles in a breakout year at Michigan, setting him up to be a coveted first-round draft pick last April. But an unfortunate Achilles injury during his pro day lowered his draft stock, though he was still picked up by the Ravens in the second round with the expectation that he'd be a contributor after recovering.
Though Ojabo was technically activated from injured reserve by November, he ultimately only appeared in three games, including the Ravens' playoff loss, and recorded a forced fumble and one sack in his limited snaps.
Oweh has more on-field experience, having played in 32 games (eight starts) since being drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He's collected eight sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in those two years but has the potential to get bigger numbers as he gains experience and reps.
In addition to Ojabo and Oweh, Harbaugh also mentioned Tyus Bowser as another player he expects to step up as a leader in the locker room after a down year. Bowser had seven sacks when he started 17 games in 2021, but played in only nine last year due to dealing with injuries.
While Harbaugh said that the team is still open to adding more talent to the position through the draft or free agency, he remained emphatic that if the players currently on the roster are able to play to their potential, they should be able to lead Baltimore to the same level of success it had with the departed players.
"You're talking about two first-round [talents] -- that's what they are," Harbaugh said. "And then you've got Tyus Bowser, who's a leader. So, between those guys right there, I think that's a good group of young players that we can build around. If a veteran gets added, he gets added, or a guy gets added in the draft, that's fine, but I believe those three guys are going to get to the quarterback."