Matthew Judon's passion: Social injustice over sack hat tricks

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Outside linebacker Matthew Judon sealed the Baltimore Ravens' 34-17 win over the Oakland Raiders with something that hadn't occurred in the NFL in 16 years.

Judon sacked Derek Carr on three consecutive plays from scrimmage, becoming the first player since Brad Scioli did so against David Carr in 2002. So excited, Judon sprinted off the field and into the tunnel, where he hugged a security guard.

A few days after the highlight of his football career, Judon recounted his toughest moment in the sport. It was the time when his family was so poor it couldn't pay for him to play in the youth football leagues.

Coaches and teammates rave about how Judon studies, practices and puts his heart into the Ravens, from playing on the punt return team to setting the edge on run plays to relentlessly chasing down quarterbacks. His passion, though, lies in speaking up for those less fortunate.

"I grew up and I saw injustice from the community I grew up in with how we were forced to live in poverty," Judon said. "It's definitely hard to see young kids that don't have the same other opportunity as people their same age. I want to change that."

Judon grew up in West Bloomfield, Michigan, home of a couple of Winter Olympians as well as a contestant on America's Next Top Model. But his experience veered far from the affluent side of the Detroit suburb. The sixth of 10 siblings, Judon watched his mother work and scrape for her family to survive.

Now, as one of the emerging stars on the NFL's No. 1 defense -- possibly the next Terrell Suggs, some might say -- Judon, 26, has taken an active role in trying to level the playing field. He is part of the Players Coalition, an independent organization that is investing time and resources into elevating and confronting social justice and racial equality issues around the country. During training camp, Judon wore a T-shirt at a media session that read: "More than 60 percent of prison population is people of color."

"Just the way he grew up, he knows what the struggle is," Ravens defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. said. "He knows what people are going through. For him to be where he is today, he always wanted to give back."

A bold voice

Judon provides a confident and brazen voice, especially when speaking on his personal path. Taking the Division II route, he led all of college football with 20 sacks in 2015, when he played at Grand Valley State.

The small-school wonder wasn't drafted until the fifth round. Judon was passed over by the Ravens five times in the fourth round that season before being the 146th overall player taken.

"In my head, I could have gone to LSU and played, or Oregon," Judon said. "In my head, I was a first-round draft pick."

As a rookie, Judon made an immediate impact during limited playing time, sitting behind Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the depth chart. Last season, he produced eight sacks and was named the fourth-most efficient pass-rusher by Pro Football Focus. He turned 27.3 percent of his pressures into sacks, which ranked behind only Julius Peppers, Ezekiel Ansah and Ryan Kerrigan.

This year, after a slow start, Judon has 4.5 sacks in his past three games, including three in three plays against the Raiders. That's only the second time that has happened in the NFL since sacks began being tracked in 1982.

"He can be a dominant pass-rusher according to his style -- a very physical, explosive, leverage-type of a pass-rusher, great quickness -- but also, really good run edge-setter, and that's the combination you really want," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's what Terrell Suggs has been over the years. I'm not making that comparison just yet, but he's watched 'Sizz' [Suggs] play and kind of patterned himself a little bit after that. And to me, he's a very similar kind of player."

The next step

Judon is as strong-willed as he is strong-minded. He has no filter, which can sometimes rub some the wrong way. There have been times over the years when Judon has argued with fans on Twitter because he can't help but speak his mind.

Inside the Ravens' facility, Judon is known for being a hard worker and someone who sits in the front rows of meetings to make sure he has every detail. What got lost in Judon's rare sack hat trick Sunday was his key block in setting up Cyrus Jones' 70-yard punt return for a touchdown.

"He likes being out there," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "He told me after the game he wants to stay on there. He wants no relief. We’re happy about that."

Judon soon could become one of the faces of the next generation of leaders on the Ravens defense. Suggs is a free agent after the season, and there's a chance that some older veteran players could become salary-cap cuts, as well.

Assuming a bigger responsibility on the team as well as role model outside the Ravens' facility is not something Judon would take lightly.

"There's a lot of people and say, 'These kids look up to you,'" Judon said. "It’s crazy to think one day I was looking up to somebody in my position and I'm in that same position to change kids' lives."