Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 6/27/12
After initially saying that he would be back by late November at the latest, Terrell Suggs has since backed off from putting a timetable on his comeback from the torn Achilles tendon he suffered this offseason.

However, Suggs does say that he will definitely play in 2012. Conventional wisdom says that the injury is very tough to come back from in less than six months, but Suggs claims that “if anybody can do it, it’s me.”
 
Not only is Terrell Suggs one of the best pass rushers in football, he is one of the very best all-around defensive players in the game.

Suggs won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award last season, and was voted No. 11 on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2012. Suggs has been selected to five Pro Bowls. For his career, he has 565 tackles, 82.5 sacks, 7 interceptions, and 27 forced fumbles.
 
Both as a pass rusher and a run defender, Suggs forces offenses to use an offensive lineman on him on essentially every down. The attention Suggs draws makes the entire Ravens' defense better.
 
When you think about what’s made the Ravens' defense great over the last decade, the first attribute that comes to mind is superb run defense. Since pass rushers tend to get more glory than run stuffers in the NFL today, it’s often forgotten just how good Suggs is against the run because he’s also a great pass rusher.

Whether it’s run or pass, Suggs consistently finds himself in the backfield wreaking havoc. For a player that’s not asked too often to drop into coverage, Suggs is a very good cover man as well.
 
Although Suggs is technically listed as an outside linebacker, he actually lines up with his hand on the ground far more often than not according to Pro Football Focus. This versatility allows the Ravens to seamlessly transition between 3-4 and 4-3 alignments without having to worry about switching personnel.
 
Everyone knows Terrell Suggs is a great player, but often times the true value of a player can only be felt when that player is no longer around to save the day. This is certainly the case with Troy Polamalu in Pittsburgh. Without Polamalu, the Steelers are only 12-9, compared to 75-29 in games that he’s started.
 
Will the Ravens see a similar drop off without Suggs? It’s possible. Suggs has risen past Ray Lewis in terms of importance on the Ravens' defense, and while I’m not willing to say that he’s more important to them than Ed Reed or Haloti Ngata, Suggs is far and away the Ravens' best pass rusher.
 
After Suggs (14 sacks in 2011), the Ravens' leading sack man was defensive end Pernell McPhee, who had 6. That’s a huge drop off. With Suggs out of the lineup, the Ravens are average at best rushing the quarterback, and that’s extremely problematic for a team that likes to blitz as often as the Ravens do.
 
It’s obvious that the Ravens will struggle more to put pressure on the quarterback and they’ll have to look to Courtney Upshaw to fill the void left by Suggs. The Ravens were extremely lucky to have Upshaw, a first-round talent, still be available for them to trade up and get at the 35th pick of the Draft. Not only did the Ravens get great value for their pick, they also filled an immediate need due to the Suggs injury.
 
Upshaw was a First-Team All-American his senior season at Alabama. In addition to winning the MVP for the 2011 Capital One Bowl, Upshaw was also the Defensive MVP of last season’s BCS National Championship game. In his senior season at Alabama, Upshaw had 51 total tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles, so the production was certainly there in college.
 
As a pro, Upshaw projects to be a strong side 3-4 outside linebacker. Like Terrell Suggs, Upshaw lacks great speed, but more than makes up for it with his strength and leverage at the point of attack. Upshaw is solid against inside runs, but his lack of speed can be exposed on sweeps. He effectively sets the edge against tackles in the running game, and uses his hands well to shed blocks and make plays.
 
Although he racked up a decent amount of sacks at Alabama, Upshaw’s pass rushing still has a long way to go. He relies almost exclusively on sheer power coming off the edge, which won’t cut it in the NFL. There’s no questioning Upshaw’s ability at the point of attack when the run is coming at him, but there are some serious concerns about his ability to pursue in space from the backside.
 
Judging off of Upshaw’s skillset, he would succeed best on a team with an effective pass rusher opposite him, leaving him to work against tight ends and be a run stuffer. In other words, Upshaw would greatly benefit from playing with someone like Terrell Suggs. Unfortunately, Upshaw will not have that blessing to begin his career.
 
The real problem for the Ravens is that Jarrett Johnson left town via free agency, and Upshaw can’t possibly replace both Johnson and Terrell Suggs at the same time. Jarrett Johnson was an absolute menace against the run. With both him and Suggs gone, it might actually be the Ravens' run defense that suffers more than their pass defense.
 
As for Upshaw, he is more likely to replace Johnson as the Sam linebacker than to step into the position that Suggs held down. That spot will likely go to Sergio Kindle, who has a lot of talent but has been relatively disappointing thus far in his career.
 
Considering that no one in the league really does what Suggs does for the Ravens, it is completely unrealistic to expect a rookie to step in and replace him, no matter how promising that rookie may be. That’s no knock on Courtney Upshaw, that’s just a realistic assessment of the situation.
 
There are questions surrounding Upshaw just like there are questions surrounding all rookies. I am not arguing that he’s not going to be a good player, but there is no way Upshaw is going to just step in and fill the shoes of one of the best players in the game today.
 
Without Suggs, expect the Ravens' defense to suffer against both the run and pass. More than anything though, they’re losing the versatility and leadership that Suggs bring to the table. Suggs didn’t just do one thing really way for the Ravens, he did everything really well. With a rookie like Upshaw, the Ravens will be satisfied if he can do one thing well.
 
I guess all my words would be somewhat empty without a bold prediction to cap it all off, so here it is. Last season, the Ravens finished third in the league in total defense. If Suggs misses at least 12 games next season, which is entirely possible, I think the Ravens will not only fall out of the top five in total defense, but out of the top ten.

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