After Za'Darius Smith reversal, where do Ravens pivot at pass-rusher?

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens thought they had addressed their need at pass-rusher on Wednesday before Za’Darius Smith turned what should have been a reunion into an unexpected reversal.

Smith’s decision not to sign a four-year, $35 million deal has left the Ravens to search for another edge rusher at a time when many of the high-profile ones have gone elsewhere.

Getting after the quarterback is one of Baltimore’s biggest remaining needs. The Ravens’ current top two outside linebackers -- Odafe Oweh and Tyus Bowser -- are coming off offseason surgeries and have a combined 22.5 career sacks.

Baltimore has watched several other AFC teams upgrade their pass rush significantly this offseason with Von Miller (Buffalo Bills), Chandler Jones (Las Vegas Raiders), Khalil Mack (Los Angeles Chargers) and Randy Gregory (Denver Broncos). The Ravens' pursuit of a pass rusher was limited to Smith. Baltimore was in talks with edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah on the first day of free agency before he returned to the Miami Dolphins on a four-year, $65 million contract.

So, where do the Ravens go to find someone to put pressure on the likes of Joe Burrow, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson this season?


Danielle Hunter, Vikings: This is the one move where the Ravens would come out with a pass-rusher better than Smith, but it will take giving up draft picks and committing to a pricey contract in order to get him. The Ravens would have to move quickly, because Hunter is due an $18 million roster bonus on Sunday. When healthy, Hunter is a ferocious pass-rusher totaling 48.5 sacks over four seasons (2016-19). But Hunter, 27, missed the entire 2020 season after neck surgery and played only seven games last season due to a torn pectoral muscle.

Other options in free agency

Justin Houston: In his first season with the Ravens, Houston played better than what his numbers (4.5 sacks) indicate. But saying that the Ravens got better in the pass rush by bringing back Houston, who is 33 and entering his 12th season, could be a tough sell.

Jadeveon Clowney: The journeyman is coming off a season in which he totaled nine sacks for the Cleveland Browns, his most since 2019. At this stage of his career, he’s more known for stopping the run than getting to the quarterback. The biggest issue with Clowney has always been availability (17 games missed over the last three years).

Jerry Hughes: He’s been durable throughout his career, but his production has tailed off at age 33. Hughes recorded 11 sacks in his last three seasons with the Bills after averaging seven per year in his previous six.

Melvin Ingram III: After being a non-factor with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ingram was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, providing a spark in the second half of the season. But Ingram turns 33 next month and has been limited to two sacks in his last 23 regular season games.

Jason Pierre-Paul: His sack numbers dropped from 9.5 in 2020 to 2.5 last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his fewest since 2015. But Pierre-Paul had been very consistent before 2021, when he recorded five straight seasons of at least seven sacks. He underwent shoulder surgery in February.

Derek Barnett: He has never surpassed seven sacks in a season and finished with a career-low two last season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Barnett has had double-digit quarterback hits in all five of his NFL seasons, but he’s been an underachiever since being the No. 14 overall pick in the 2017 draft.

The draft

Travon Walker, Georgia: The Ravens likely would have to trade up from No. 14 overall to get Walker, who has been projected to go in the top 5 by some analysts. He didn’t put up eye-popping numbers last season (six sacks and 29 pressures), but he showed his explosiveness at the NFL scouting combine, where he ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash and had a 35 1/2-inch vertical leap.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon: He led Oregon with seven sacks last season and has tremendous upside with power and off-the-snap quickness. Thibodeaux has long been considered a lock to be a top-10 pick, but there have been questions about his lack of competitive intensity, which could cause him to slide.

Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State: He’ll become an increasingly popular mock draft pick for the Ravens at No. 14 over the past month. Johnson was the ACC defensive player of the year after recording 12 sacks. He also turned heads at the Senior Bowl, where the Ravens have had an affinity for prospects.

David Ojabo, Michigan: He suffered an apparent left leg injury during his pro day workout Friday, which puts some uncertainty around his draft status. Ojabo enjoyed a breakout season last year, when he finished second on the Wolverines in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (12). His connection with the Ravens is first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who served in the same role at Michigan last season.

George Karlaftis, Purdue: Considered the best power rusher in the draft, Karlaftis has drawn comparisons to Ryan Kerrigan, a four-time Pro Bowl defender who was also a standout at Purdue. There have been concerns about his length and how he’ll fare against long-armed offensive tackles. He had 4.5 sacks last season, and he should be available when Baltimore is on the clock.