In supplementing their roster over the years, the Ravens have taken their chances on players from both big-name collegiate programs and small, almost unheard of ones.
The two schools Baltimore has drafted from most often are Alabama (seven picks) and Oklahoma (seven picks), the organization no doubt feeling that those players were the most NFL-ready, that they would require little adjustment to the pro level.
Then there are the smaller programs, where Ozzie Newsome has found the most of his “diamonds in the rough.” Those players went from virtually unnoticed during their collegiate careers to household names on Sundays.
That’s exactly what the team was hoping for when they selected Grand Valley State outside linebacker Matt Judon with the 146th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
“You guys saw the clips; he’s an explosive pass rusher, which is something that was obviously of interest to us,” recalled assistant general manager Eric DeCosta after selecting Judon in the fifth round. “Big interest. And I should also say that Joe Cullen, who works with our defensive line and rush linebackers, was really, really excited.
“This was a guy that he thought was an outstanding prospect, and he spent a lot of time with him this spring, and we felt very, very good about his ability to come in and help us right away.”
Judon, Grand Valley State’s all-time leader in sacks (35), got off to a slow start in training camp earlier this summer, causing many pundits to quickly judge the rookie, saying he was having trouble adjusting to the more highly-skilled players around him.
Judon quickly disagreed.
“No. That’s just where I went to college,” stated Judon when asked about having big-school guys all around him. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play them in college (division one), but I get to play them on Sundays and Mondays.
“I’ll just go out there and make the best of my opportunities right now.”
The raw – but talented – pass rusher has quickly flicked the switch over recent weeks and finds himself as one of the Ravens’ standout players through three preseason games.
“I feel like I’m coming along with the rookie class,” added Judon. “We’re all getting better every day. I don’t really know, because I’ve never done it before. This is my first time.
“I feel like I’m just continuing to improve with my team and getting more comfortable. Like I said, the more plays, the more comfortable I will become, and when I’m comfortable out here, the faster I can play – the more aware I can play.”
Improving almost daily is Judon, who has caught the eye of John Harbaugh. The coach went out of his way to publicly announce he wanted to see the 2015 Gene Upshaw Award winner compete against Detroit’s starters. The result? Several pass rush pressures and a sack against the starting right tackle of the Lions, Riley Reiff.
Judon says he has learned a lot about his craft over recent weeks from fellow teammates, including pass rushing specialist Elvis Dumervil, and put it to good use.
“It’s so much I really can’t spit it off the top of my head, but probably from ‘Doom,’ [he says]: ‘When you get tired out there, the offensive tackle is also getting tired.
“Just make sure you get off the ball, and then once you get off the ball, you’re already off the ball, so you might as well go ahead and make a play.’”
While preseason football pales in comparison to when the bullets are live in the regular season, Judon has passed every test thus far and at the very least eased the minds of some who are still concerned about the Ravens’ 2016 pass rush.
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