The Baltimore Ravens need pass-rush help at the edges of their defense in the worse way. Fortunately, the team is already taking steps toward fixing the problem, including having a visit set with in-demand USC Edge Tuli Tuipulotu ahead of the 2023 NFL draft.
Tuipulotu, who was named the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year for 2022, told Heavy’s Lorenzo J. Reyna, “I’ve got a couple of visits planned for two teams: Pittsburgh and Baltimore. So I’m excited for that, for sure.”
The player was speaking at USC’s pro day and had some encouraging quotes about his style and skill-set the Ravens are sure to appreciate. Notably, Tuipulotu described his versatility: “I’m down to do whatever the team wants me to do. If they want me standing up and drop (into coverage), I’ll drop. If they want me to put my hand down and go inside, I’ll do whatever they want me to do. I did a lot of different stuff this past season, so whatever they want me to do.”
That flexibility and willingness ought to appeal to a Ravens franchise long noted for playing multiple-front defenses reliant on hybrid edge-rushers. Selecting a prospect expected to hear his name called either late in the first round or early in the second, according to Walter Football’s Charlie Campbell, won’t be easy. Not when as many as five other teams have shown interest.
Adding somebody with Tuipulotu’s range and NFL bloodlines would be a great value pick for a Ravens team needing to freshen up its pass-rush department during this draft.
Award Winner Has Strong NFL Bloodlines
USC’s best defensive player last season has the pedigree to make it at the pro level. Tuipulotu’s brother Marlon plays defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, while both are cousin to San Francisco 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga.
There are other compelling reasons for the Ravens beat AFC North rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers to the selection of Tuipulotu. Specifically, the 20-year-old is comfortable in a variety of spots, something he showed during the pro day workout, with Reyna spotting Tuipulotu performing reps as both a traditional defensive end and as a “coverage defender” dropping into space.
It’s telling how Reyna noted this work was done in front of a representative from the New York Giants. Big Blue run a similar system to the Ravens on the watch of former Baltimore defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale.
Mike Macdonald replaced ‘Wink’ last offseason, but the schematic template has remained largely intact. The Ravens still require their edge players to make an impact in all three phases of defense.
Tuipulotu has no problem rushing the passer, evidenced by his FBS and nation-leading 13.5 sacks last season. One of those quarterback takedowns came against Notre Dame back in November, a play highlighted by The Draft Network’s Ryan Fowler:
Although he won here after putting his hand in the dirt and rushing from a three-point stance, Tuipulotu explained how he’s gotten lighter, dropping from 290 pounds to 268, per Reyna: “I was just training, dieting and my weight just went down to 266. Today I weighed at 268. But yeah, if I want to go up (in weight), I’ll go up. But right now, I’m just training. I don’t care where my weight is at.”
Ultimately, Tuipulotu proved himself a playmaker no matter where he lined up or what he weighed. His sack totals, along with 22 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles, per Sports Reference, were ample proof of his ability to wreck offenses in multiple ways.
The Ravens need that level of talent as they continue to get younger across the front seven.
Ravens Youth Movement Must Continue Along Defensive Front
There’s been a youth movement going on up front for a while, and the process continued in earnest this offseason. Some of the moves have been painful, like releasing 36-year-old defensive tackle Calais Campbell.
The latter move was probably motivated more by salary cap concerns than any worry about age. Yet, the Ravens have still so far neglected to bring back last season’s team sack leader, Justin Houston, who’s 34, the same age as fellow edge-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul.
Houston and Pierre-Paul are both free agents, so the time is ripe for the Ravens to begin forming new combinations on the edges. Pairing Tuipulotu with a fully healthy David Ojabo would be just the ticket behind a new-look line anchored by 25-year-old Justin Madubuike and second-year nose tackle Travis Jones.
Drafting Tuipulotu would be a key part of the plan, but the Ravens are going to have to fend off some strong competition. Aside from the Steelers waiting in the wings, and the Giants taking a closer look, Tuipulotu revealed “he spoke” with two other teams, per Adam Grosbard of the Orange County Register:
Tuipulotu also met with the Eagles at the Scouting Combine, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Josh Tolentino.
The list of suitors is growing, but the Ravens have more than enough reasons to position themselves at the front of the queue.