Breaking down what makes Ravens interior D-lineman Justin Madubuike a breakout candidate for 2022


Justin Madubuike was selected 71st overall in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens’ two previous selections, linebacker Patrick Queen and running back JK Dobbins, seemed to be quickly turning into standout performers. However, the players they picked in the third round have had the biggest impact so far.

Those players are inside defensive lineman Justin Madubuike and All-Pro return specialist Devin Duvernay. After two solid years in the NFL, Madubuike is expected to make a breakthrough in 2022.

Here are five reasons.

#1- Justin Madubuike has NFL experience to draw on

Baltimore Ravens vs Washington Football Team
Baltimore Ravens vs Washington Football Team

While leading the NFL in punt return averages like Duvernay is more tangible than Madubuike’s impact, it’s not true. Ask anyone in Baltimore and they’ll tell you Madubuike is an up and coming young player for them. His game tape confirms this. Looking at his usage between the first two years of his career, his instant total in defense went from 260 (in ten games) to 484 (in 15 games – 51% overall in those).

justin madubuike was pretty good against the run on sunday

While he only doubled his sacks from one in 2020 to two last season, you can already see he’s become more of a troublemaker. His seven tackles for the loss and five extra base hits from the quarterback showed that. He’s had two solid years and the Ravens have had a tough campaign for a number of reasons in 2021, so he shouldn’t be judged too harshly on that. With the franchise much healthier in 2022, Madubuike will use what he’s learned to reach new heights.

#2- The Ravens will be a very different team in 2022

Wild Card Round - San Diego Chargers v Baltimore Ravens
Wild Card Round – San Diego Chargers v Baltimore Ravens

Taking a broader look at the Ravens defense in 2021, this unit had a lot of passing issues and then shut down teams. They gave up the most completed passes over 20 yards in the entire NFL (74) and were tied for the most yards per pass attempt (7.2). This was despite the historically poor pace the New York Jets seemed to have for some time.

This vulnerability to big plays in the air was partly due to injuries on that side of the ball. That and the type of scheme they wanted to execute under defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. They routinely got shredded for playing blitz-zero, or when one of their young defensive backs got lost to version changes and when a back completely blew a mission.

The Ravens defensive line group is going to be really fun to watch. So many veterans and young talents such as- Calais Campbell- Michael Pierce- Brent Urban- Justin Madubuike- Broderick Washington- Travis Jones

Baltimore had by far the most lost adjusted games last season, according to Football Outsiders (191.2 versus the Jets’ 158.5 for second-highest). The Ravens were able to be competitive in almost every game (apart from getting swept by the Bengals), even when starting quarterback Lamar Jackson was unavailable. Not being in a lot of positive game scenario situations wasn’t exactly conducive to their defensive line attacking a lot on the field.

The Bengals beat the Ravens who were without:- Lamar Jackson- Tyler Huntley- JK Dobbins- Gus Edwards- Justice Hill- Patrick Ricard- Devin Duvernay- Ronnie Stanley- Ben Powers- Tire Phillips- Justin Madubuike- Derek Wolfe- Justin Houston- Pernell McPhee – Fort LJ

The Ravens have a much healthier roster going into the next campaign and it will change the trajectory of Madubuike’s career.

#3- He has great skills

Green Bay Packers vs. Baltimore Ravens
Green Bay Packers vs. Baltimore Ravens

Distinguishing Madubuike on tape, it brings proactive and relentless hands to fight blocks in the running game. He displays the lateral agility to flow down the line and work over blocks, beating ball carriers headed to the perimeter. Yet he also brings the quickness to the linemen crossed on the tilts, allowing the rest of the defense to tighten up and converge on the ball carrier.

As they played Madubuike like a traditional front end, we got to see his excellent pursuit from the back. Not to mention chasing wide area runs. It displays more awareness for screen passes that play out this way.

Justin Madubuike was double teamed to start this game Justin Madubuike tackled Derrick Henry to end this game

On rushing runs, Madubuike showcases some serious whiplash and can bring guards back to the quarterback’s lap. He effectively punches pass protectors’ wrists and reaches the edges of their frame as he attacks the man half. You see him go from long arm to bypassing blockers with quick manual maneuvers. As people start to lean on him, he exhibits the lateral agility to get around blockers after his run has momentarily come to a halt.

Madubuike also showed the smarts to identify protection and used slides against the offense a few times, through near-snatch blockers.

#4- The Ravens will put his abilities to good use

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens

Mike Macdonald returns to Baltimore as a new defensive player, having excelled in that role during his freshman year at Michigan. They also signed two excellent safeties in free agent Marcus Williams from the New Orleans Saints and the consensus top prospect in the draft with Kyle Hamilton from Notre Dame.

Expect a lot more quarterback principles to pair with some of the pressure looks we’re used to seeing from them. Instead of real human coverage, where there were too many busts and saves losing their matches.

This means opposing quarterbacks will hold onto the ball longer, trying to decipher post-snap rotations. This will give their defensive line more time to get home. It will be interesting to see what twist Macdonald might give to these flash deals. Perhaps it’s more about using the downline player as “open” rather than trying to create free runners from the back seven.

Lock down a prediction of a Justin Madubuike breakout season

When Madubuike’s rush wasn’t rendered useless by the quick release of the ball, he saw a large amount of doubles. It was because he was the only player lined up between the tackles. His explosiveness and his flexibility make him someone who can become a more involved player in twists and turns. That way he can ram into the next gap man as a setter or turn a tight turn on the loopback.

#5- The Ravens will develop his weaknesses

Tennessee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens
Tennessee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens

In terms of areas of improvement for Madubuike, his gap integrity on the run defense should be a focus, rather than just trying to beat the blocker. There is room to grow by countering the first step(s) of the offensive line. Too often he’s been caught on the wrong side of wide area combos, where he now has to fight over the top.

Overall, there is still room for improvement in developing a defined contingency plan. When he slides right into the guards and tries to work his moves, too often he gets caught in the middle. This allows them to square it and force a secondary action. Madubuike isn’t much of a bag specialist, but he has the ability to deliver consistent pressure. This is important for a defense that changes its philosophy somewhat, while retaining many of its basic principles.

This third-year player could be key in that regard, thanks to how he can impact both sides of the game. Not to mention the huge level of activity he provides overall. After missing all of 2021, Derek Wolfe has decided to retire. While Calais Campbell has been brought back on a two-year, $12.5 million deal, they likely want to cut his instant share as he enters his 15th year.

With all the players Baltimore has back around Madubuike and on their offense, the Ravens have ambitions in 2022. They’re looking to position themselves near the top of the AFC and go deep in the playoffs. So be ready to get acquainted with this young man, who affects many more games than the box score indicates.

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