How did Ravens inside linebackers stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

February 24, 2020 | Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens inside linebackers ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen
Tight ends

Patrick Onwuasor
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 503
PFF ranking: 73rd among off-ball linebackers
Skinny: Viewed by many as a priority to extend after a strong 2018 season, Onwuasor flopped in his move to “Mike” linebacker and suffered a Week 5 ankle injury that cost him two games. The 27-year-old remained a solid blitzer upon returning to the weak-side spot, but he surrendered a 118.6 passer rating in coverage and was closer to being an afterthought than an impact player in the second half of the season.

Josh Bynes
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 431
PFF ranking: sixth among off-ball linebackers
Skinny: The October signing of the Super Bowl XLVII champion slowed the heartbeat of a position group in total disarray after the opening month of the season. Though not an every-down player in Baltimore’s multiple defense, the 30-year-old Bynes saw more action than any other inside linebacker down the stretch and was quite solid in coverage, proving to be a crucial in-season addition.

L.J. Fort
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 270
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: After previously drawing offseason interest from the Ravens, Fort also arrived after Week 4 and was graded favorably by PFF in more situational playing time. A good special-teams player and a capable nickel linebacker, the 30-year-old signed a two-year, $5.5 million extension in November and is the only safe bet to be part of the inside linebacker picture in 2020 at this point.

Chris Board
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 64
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The North Dakota State product created some buzz last summer and looked like he might be the next undrafted inside linebacker to earn a starting gig in Baltimore before late-summer injuries slowed his momentum. That preseason hype proved to be a greater indictment of former fourth-round pick Kenny Young, however, as Board played only a few defensive snaps after Week 4.

Otaro Alaka
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 0
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A good preseason landed the rookie free agent from Texas A&M on the 53-man roster, but a hamstring injury eliminated any chance of him getting a look at inside linebacker as Alaka was placed on injured reserve in late September. He’s a name to watch this spring and summer, but the Ravens didn’t see enough of him as a rookie to assume he’s a viable rotation option at this point.

2020 positional outlook

Few would fault Eric DeCosta’s decision not to match the market-altering contract the New York Jets gave four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley — especially after the ex-Raven missed all but two games with a groin injury in 2019 — but gambling on the youth and athleticism of Onwuasor, Young, and Board proved to be unwise, prompting an in-season reconstruction that worked surprisingly well. Still, there’s a reason why so many mock drafts have projected Baltimore to take Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen with the 28th overall pick. Even with the increasing popularity of the dime and nickel packages in recent years, a three-down linebacker would help stabilize the front seven and leave the Ravens less vulnerable against the run, a deficiency that was exposed in the playoff loss to Derrick Henry and Tennessee. The Ravens don’t need to find the next Ray Lewis, but drafting an inside linebacker early, re-signing Bynes to platoon with Fort, and continuing to develop Alaka and Board as long-term depth options would put the Ravens in better shape at this position for 2020 and beyond.