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Are the Ravens’ Defensive Talons Still Sharp?

Terrell Suggs has played extremely well over the course of his six years in the league. During his career he has racked up 369 total tackles, 53 sacks and forced 17 fumbles. The Ravens used the franchise tag on him in 2008 and again this past offseason, but the team and Suggs recently came to an agreement that will keep him in Maryland for the foreseeable future when he signed a six-year contract worth $62.5 million.

Someone recently asked me if

still had what it took as a defense to be one of those squads to reach for early on in a fantasy draft. The team surely did lose a lot in the offseason, and the Suggs deal has to be a glimmer of hope for Ravens fans, but is it enough to say that the once-vaunted defense is still elite?

Suggs came out of

for the 2003 draft where he was taken 10th overall. People knew that his pass-rushing skills in college were absolutely amazing, and when he racked up 24 sacks in his junior year, teams knew that they had a chance of drafting someone special. However, until Amobi Okoye was drafted by the Texans in 2007, Suggs was the youngest player to ever be taken in the NFL draft. This age factor may have scared away a few teams, but the Ravens did not hesitate, and that move has translated into nothing but success for the team. Suggs will surely continue to dominate the field and has a lot of gas left in the tank. While some players sign a big deal and then seem to quit, Suggs has an intensity and passion for the game that few in the league do, and I think he will thrive with this contract situation behind him.

Just as much as it’s great for the Ravens to have a happy Suggs on the field and to have also re-signed the immortal Ray Lewis, they will be without linebacker Bart Scott who bolted for the Jets in the offseason. Scott averaged 92.5 tackles per year over the past four seasons and seemed to be wherever the ball was every time an opposing offense attempted to move it downfield. His veteran leadership and nose for the ball will be sorely missed in the Ravens linebacker corps. His replacement is second year player Tavares Gooden who was placed on IR last October in his rookie year. Prior to the move, he had amassed five tackles over four games played. Gooden was a third round pick in 2008 out of

and the team is hoping for big things out of him, but I highly doubt he will be able to fill the shoes of Scott this year.

The team also released defensive end Marques Douglas, and vastly underrated strong safety Jim Leonhard joined Scott in

New York
this past offseason. Leonhard was highly coveted by many teams, including the Eagles, before the Jets scooped him up. Leonhard played in all 16 games last season for the Ravens and had 69 total tackles to go along with one sack and one interception. Despite losing all of these players, the greatest loss for

probably came in the coach’s box when former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan took the head coaching job with the Jets … seeing a pattern here?

Ryan is the son of defensive guru and former NFL head coach Buddy Ryan, and during his time in

, their defense was absolutely vicious. To lose a coordinator of such magnitude is always difficult for a team to deal with, but it’s going to be especially hard losing Ryan. His replacement is Greg Mattison, who was co-defensive coordinator at the

University of
for three years and was also the Ravens linebackers coach in 2008.

As much as head coach
John Harbaugh is on the Mattison bandwagon
, I think it is hard to say that he will be able to step in and make this defense even better than Ryan did. While coaching at the summit of the college world in

is a great accomplishment, by no means does it necessarily translate to success in guiding an NFL defense. While he is at least somewhat familiar with Ryan’s defense after working in it for a season, Mattison will surely bring new things to the table that have not yet been tried and tested in the NFL. This in turn means that there could be a learning curve for this defense which has been steadfast in its approach to the game for several years.

By no means do I think that

is going to catapult downwardly as a top fantasy football defense though. Despite losing Scott and Ryan (and Leonhard and Douglas to a lesser degree) the team is still loaded with players like Suggs, Lewis, a defensive line that is better than most in the league consisting of Trevor Pryce, Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata, and of course quite arguably the best safety in football patrolling centerfield in Ed Reed.
Baltimore is still one of a few defenses, along with
Minnesota (if this Williams duo nightmare is dealt with) and

that I could see myself making an early play for if the situation is right. The Suggs signing alone should be one big clue to you that GM Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the front office is 100 percent dedicated to having one of the best defenses in the league for many years to come.

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