AFC North Q&A: Will Baltimore rank in the top 10 in run defense?

Ravens run defense without Ngata

ESPN NFL Insider Dan Graziano thinks Baltimore's run defense will be fine without defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

Today's question: The Baltimore Ravens ranked in the top five in run defense in seven of Haloti Ngata's nine seasons. Will Baltimore rank in the top 10 in run defense this year without him?

Jeremy Fowler, Pittsburgh Steelers: Brandon Williams will say yes, which is why I say yes: because I believe in Williams as an early-down run-stuffer. Pro Football Focus rated Williams at plus-15.6 overall, highest among nose tackles and 10th-best among defensive tackles. Watching Williams’ activity live is a better barometer of his ability than a stat line (47 tackles, two forced fumbles, 0.5 sacks). Ngata was a stalwart for nine seasons, but Williams made the Ravens’ decision to lowball Ngata a prudent one. Young front seven guys C.J. Mosley and Timmy Jernigan also will be crucial for the Ravens' run defense, but expect Williams to be a productive tackle on first and second down, possibly third. And don’t forget about the drafting of Iowa tackle Carl Davis, a load at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, in the third round.

Coley Harvey, Cincinnati Bengals: No, the Ravens will not have a top-10 run defense this season. This will be a year of transition in that regard as Tim Jernigan starts adapting to life as the young up-and-comer in Baltimore’s line. He’ll get the Ravens back to those years of top-10, top-five rush defenses in time. But this season, it won’t happen. Besides, even with a healthy Ngata in 2012 and 2013, Baltimore didn’t have a top-10 rush defense either of those seasons. Nose tackle Brandon Williams figures to play a key role in the Ravens’ success against the run again, though. He ranked second among league tackles in Pro Football Focus’ run-stop percentage. Having to play seven games against six teams that were among the league’s top 15 rushing offenses last season won’t make matters easy for Baltimore this season, either.

Pat McManamon, Cleveland Browns: Yes, though it won’t be easy. In Ngata's nine seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens' defense allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in the league and the second-fewest rushing yards. But Baltimore survived Ngata’s four-game suspension at the end of last season, and they feel Brandon Williams is ready. Pro Football Focus ranked Williams the 10th-best defensive tackle in the NFL last season. Replacing a guy like Ngata does not happen easily, but Ozzie Newsome drafts well and rarely hangs on to a player too long. The Ravens will be fine.