How did Ravens inside linebackers stack up to rest of NFL in 2020?

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The Ravens qualified for the postseason for the third straight year and registered their first playoff victory in six years, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in such an unusual 2020 campaign?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or handing out postseason honors, media and fans spend much time discussing where players rank at any given position, but very few watch every player on every team closely enough to develop opinions as informed as we’d like to believe.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Detroit Lions linebackers this season? What about the Las Vegas Raiders offensive line? And the Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while admitting their grades are hardly the gospel of player assessment. The exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league shouldn’t be dismissed when most of us watch one team or maybe one division closely on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the Baltimore roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens inside linebackers stacked up across the NFL this past season followed by a positional outlook going into 2021:

Safeties
Tight ends
Defensive linemen
Running backs

Patrick Queen
2020 defensive snap count: 858
PFF ranking: 82nd out of 83 qualified linebackers
2021 Week 1 age: 22
Skinny: The rookie from LSU was the only player in the league with at least 70 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, an interception, and a defensive touchdown, which showed off his ceiling and propensity for splash plays. However, his struggles in pass coverage and inconsistent physicality at 232 pounds led to an uneven season, which probably shouldn’t have been a shock when considering the restrictions on the offseason, his age, and limited starting experience in college. The talent is clearly there, but the Ravens will hope to see Queen make a Devin White-like jump in his second year to deem this first-round pick a success.

L.J. Fort
2020 defensive snap count: 381
PFF ranking: 9th out of 83 qualified linebackers
2021 Week 1 age: 31
Skinny: Queen represents the future at the position, but Fort was easily the more consistent Baltimore inside linebacker in 2020, setting career highs in tackles (53) and snaps while playing pretty well in coverage. The veteran has been mentioned by pundits as a potential salary cap casualty that would save the Ravens $2.25 million, but he represents a valuable safety net for an otherwise young group.

Malik Harrison
2020 defensive snap count: 264
PFF ranking: n/a
2021 Week 1 age: 23
Skinny: The third-round rookie from Ohio State had a season very much in line with what many anticipated as Harrison saw action on early downs playing the run and proved to be an effective tackler. His development in coverage will determine if Harrison eventually becomes a strong three-down option at inside linebacker.

Chris Board
2020 defensive snap count: 264
PFF ranking: n/a
2021 Week 1 age: 26
Skinny: Ranking second on the team in special-teams snaps, Board saw the most defensive action of his career in his third season as a hybrid dime back with the roster lacking reserve safety options. Registering 2 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble while playing much more down the stretch, the former undrafted rookie from North Dakota State is set to become a restricted free agent.

Kristian Welch
2020 defensive snap count: 8
PFF ranking: n/a
2021 Week 1 age: 23
Skinny: The rookie free agent from Iowa became a regular contributor on special teams in mid-October, but the next step will be Welch trying to develop into a viable depth option on defense to solidify his standing on the 53-man roster for 2021 and beyond.

Otaro Alaka
2020 defensive snap count: 0
PFF ranking: n/a
2021 Week 1 age: 25
Skinny: Season-ending injuries in each of his first two years have prevented the Ravens from taking a closer look at Alaka, who has flashed potential during spring and summer practices. He remains someone to monitor, especially given Board’s status in free agency.

2021 positional outlook
New inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan has no shortage of talent from which to work with multiple players in their early 20s. Having invested first- and third-round selections in last year’s draft at a position not providing a ton of standalone value in the modern game, the Ravens would seem unlikely to do a whole lot at off-ball linebacker this offseason, especially if Fort plays out the final year of his contract and Board is re-signed to a cheap deal. If Queen takes a meaningful step forward, the position group is in strong shape for the next few years. If Harrison also shows growth, inside linebacker becomes a significant strength at an affordable rate, which would be a positive development for a roster growing more expensive by the year.