Ravens Can Draft ‘Best’ in Class to Replace Jadeveon Clowney

The Baltimore Ravens don’t have to replace Jadeveon Clowney with an Eric DeCosta special late in free agency, not when they can simply take Laiatu Latu with the 30th pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

Latu is one of the stronger options for the Ravens late in the first round, according to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic. He described the UCLA “pure pass rusher” as “widely considered the best in this draft class.”

That’s a bold statement, but Latu boasts the numbers to merit the praise. As Zrebiec pointed out, the 23-year-old posted “23 1/2 sacks and 34 tackles for loss over his final two college seasons. He also had an FBS-best 24.6 percent pass-rush win rate in his final season.”

Statistics like those are what the Ravens need to supplement a potentially dominant front seven. There’s strength up front, thanks to breakout defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, but the Ravens need an elite payer on the edges.

Zrebiec believes Latu would “check a ton of boxes for the Ravens,” because the “6-foot-4, 261-pound outside linebacker has a strong understanding of pass-rush moves and fundamentals and plays with outstanding effort.”

Adding Latu to a young rotation headlined by Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo would not only replace Clowney, who signed a two-year deal with the Carolina Panthers. It would also mean general manager DeCosta could forego adding another 30-something veteran late in free agency as a short-term fix.

Laiatu Latu Can Be Dominant Edge Ravens Lack

Neither Ojabo nor Oweh have emerged as the dominant force the Ravens need on the edge. Oweh has shown signs of improvement, particularly last season, when the 2021 first-rounder recorded five sacks and 15 pressures.

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It’s been a different story for Ojabo, who has struggled to simply get onto the field. Tearing his Achilles at his pro day before the 2023 draft didn’t help, but the second-round pick also lost most of his second season to a torn ACL.

What the Ravens need is a young, durable and consistent pass-rusher. Latu could handle the role, based on how he thrived for the Bruins.

He graded at or near the top of every meaningful pass-rush category the last two seasons, per PFF College.

UCLA EDGE Laiatu Latu over the past two seasons:

🔵 95.4 PFF Grade (1st)
🔵 27 Sacks (1st)
🔵 126 Pressures (2nd)
🔵 23% Pass Rush Win Rate (1st)
🔵 94.5 Pass Rush Grade (1st) pic.twitter.com/61X0oX6ypR

— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 1, 2024

What those numbers look like in action are a dynamic speed and power rusher offenses need special gameplans to stop. Putting numbers on Latu won’t necessarily work.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the projected first-overall pick in this year’s draft, found that out the hard way when the Trojans thought chipping Latu with a running back would be enough.

As The Athletic’s Dane Brugler highlighted, it wasn’t.

USC: We’ll keep a RB home to help slow down Laiatu Latu.

Latu: “Challenge accepted.” pic.twitter.com/Mehmgfueka

— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 20, 2023

Turning Latu loose in their pressure-heavy, multiple-front defense would be a draft home run for the Ravens. Whether or not DeCosta decides to dip back into the veteran market.

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Jadeveon Clowney a Typical Veteran Success Story for Ravens

Clowney was a late punt for the Ravens who became a typical veteran success story for DeCosta. The 31-year-old stomped his way to 9.5 sacks to pace all Ravens’ edge-rushers, but he wasn’t the only veteran who thrived.

There was also Kyle Van Noy, who chipped in with a creditable nine quarterback takedowns. Like Clowney, he’s a free agent, although Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh has expressed optimism Van Noy could still return.

No matter what happens with Van Noy, DeCosta has other options on the market. Proven pass-rushers like Randy Gregory, Bud Dupree and Yannick Ngakoue.

They could all help, but any assistance would only be of the same short-term variety provided by Van Noy and Clowney. Drafting Latu would give the Ravens chance to find a long-term solution at a problem position.

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