You hear Ravens and you think defense, and a large part of that defense has been the pass rush. Lead by Terrell Suggs and recently Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens have been able to get to the passer as well as any other team in the NFL. Last year was different though. Suggs was lost for the year in Week 1, shifting all of the attention over to Elvis Dumervil, who could not reach the heights he aspired for or had been at the year before. Luckily though, the Ravens will be getting both of those players back along with a few new pass rushers, but that doesn’t mean that one of last year’s replacements, Za’Darius Smith, shouldn’t build on what was a pleasantly productive rookie season.
In a role that grew as the year went on, Smith was able to contribute in 15 games as both an all-round 3-4 outside backer. In fact, he finished among rookies with 5.5 sacks and he added another 30 tackles and even a pass defensed. Numbers that eclipsed those of another rookie outside backer last year, Steelers first rounder Bud Dupree, his ex-teammate.
Originally brought in to try to fill the void that Pernell McPhee left when he jetted off to Chicago, Smith will be looked at to fill in as a situational edge rusher, an interior pass rusher and possibly even as a middle linebacker alongside C.J. Mosely.
Now with an extra year of experience, he should be able to hone in on what he developed last year and he should certainly be able to manage a bigger load than last year, which he’ll likely have to do. Suggs and Dumervil are not getting any younger, and both of them seem to be showing signs of exactly that. It could turn out that the Ravens resort to more of a rotation among the outside backers, and I would not be at all surprised if Smith is among the top of the group in snaps come the end of the season.