Justin Houston Adds Needed Veteran Presence to Baltimore Ravens

Justin Houston Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens saved one of their best off-season moves for last when they signed Justin Houston to a one-year deal worth roughly $2 million. Per Adam Schefter, Houston’s contract can be worth up to $4 million with incentives. The 32-year-old outside linebacker is coming off of his fourth straight season with eight or more sacks.

Houston now becomes the Ravens most accomplished EDGE defender in 2021. Baltimore has historically been known as a team that breeds game-changing pass rushers but will enter next season with a fairly youthful group. General manager Eric DeCosta made an effort to acquire young pass-rushing talent through the draft this past April. The Ravens used their 31st-overall pick on Penn State’s Odafe Oweh and a fifth-round pick on Notre Dame’s Daelyn Hayes.

DeCosta is not the type of general manager to make a splash in free agency but he got his guy at a good price as training camp opens in the NFL. Houston will bring a needed veteran presence and a history of quality production to the Ravens in 2021.

Justin Houston Adds Veteran Presence to Ravens Pass Rush

Just Houston gives Ravens sack production and pressure on the outside

Houston brings a long resume of production to Baltimore. Since being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011, he has racked up the third-most sacks in the NFL with 97.5. His 117 tackles for loss also rank eighth in the league over that time span.

The Ravens on the other hand have struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks over the past three seasons. Since the beginning of the 2018 season, Baltimore ranks 13th in sacks. However, their production has largely been based on schemed pressure in defensive coordinator Don Martindale’s blitz-heavy system. Per Jamison Hensley, the Ravens have the fewest sacks in the NFL when not blitzing since 2019.

Terrell Suggs is still the last Raven to record a double-digit sack season (2017). Pernell McPhee was the only EDGE rostered by the Ravens to have more than eight career sacks prior to the acquisition of Houston. The Ravens are also trying to replace the 12 sacks lost in free agency due to the losses of Matt Judon, Jihad Ward, and Yannick Ngakoue.

Houston should jump into a starting role out of the gate. Martdinale frequently uses a rotation of outside linebackers but Houston brings a lot of experience and can play on all three downs. Houston should start the season as the Ravens first-string pure pass rusher.

Bringing along the youth movement

From 2018 to 2020, the Ravens selected just one EDGE defender, Jaylon Ferguson, through the NFL Draft. In 2021 they selected multiple pass rushers for the first time since 2017. Under DeCosta’s management, the Ravens have become a team committed to building from the back. Baltimore’s secondary is perhaps the deepest position group in the NFL but their pass rush is incredibly young.

The Ravens could heavily be relying on Houston to teach Odafe Oweh some tricks of the trade. Oweh did not start playing football until he was 16 years old and had subdued numbers in college. He was maybe the best overall athlete in the entire 2021 NFL Draft but did not register a sack in his final season in college. Oweh is the definition of a raw prospect with tremendous upside.

Of the five EDGE defenders with a shot to make the Ravens 53-man roster (excluding Houston), their average age is 25.6 years old. That number becomes 24 if you exclude McPhee — the only Raven’s EDGE with over 1,500 career defensive snaps played. Houston’s 6,584 career defensive snaps are more than the rest of the Ravens EDGE defenders combined (5,473).

Baltimore now boasts a solid blend of youth and experience in the EDGE room. They also have a group with a lot of versatility. Houston will have a prominent role in the Ravens defense but can also provide a lot of wisdom and potential rest to other players. The Ravens no longer have to rush Oweh into action or overuse their other outside linebackers.

Building toward a championship

2021 is going to be a big year for the Ravens. They finished 2020 with an 11-5 record and got their first playoff win since 2014. However, they are looking to accomplish bigger things next season and compete for a Super Bowl. The pass rush was probably the weakest overall unit on the Ravens going into 2021 and Houston helps fortify a unit that had a lot of question marks from both a depth and quality perspective. The Baltimore Ravens already boasted one of the best rosters in the NFL and the addition of Justin Houston makes them significantly deeper going forward.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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