Yannick Ngakoue is glad to be home.
The newest Raven, a Bowie, Md., native and University of Maryland product, said he is glad to be back in Maryland, back near his mom, and ready to be on the field when the Ravens face the Pittsburgh Steelers in a critical AFC North showdown Nov. 1.
“I had a lot of success, personally, versus that team,” Ngakoue said on a media conference call on Oct. 23, adding that he was “definitely, definitely super excited” that his first game as a Raven would come against the Steelers — the team he set he rooted for as a child.
The Ravens have a bye this week, and Ngakoue said after completing the league’s COVID protocols, he expects to be on the practice field with the Ravens when team workouts resume next week.
The Ravens acquired Ngakoue Oct. 22 from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for a pair of draft picks, giving up a third-round pick next year and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2022 as general manager Eric DeCosta again made a deal to aggressively bolster his defense for what he hopes will be a deep postseason run.
It was just about 12 months ago that DeCosta traded for Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters, and earlier this year DeCosta traded for defensive end Calais Campbell, who was Ngakoue’s teammate in Jacksonville from 2017-2019. The Jaguars reached the AFC championship game after the 2017 season.
“We had a lot of success in Jacksonville,” Ngakoue said, “and we’re just hoping to do the same things here.”
The Ravens (5-1) have won three straight games and are about to embark on a critical month that will include two games against the Steelers and one against the Tennessee Titans; both those teams are undefeated entering their matchup against each other Oct. 25.
Ngakoue, a pass-rushing defensive end, averaged about nine sacks a year during his first four NFL seasons and addresses one of the Ravens’ top roster concerns. He comes to the Ravens in the midst of a tumultuous year for him. He was given the franchise tag by the Jaguars this year, then traded to the Vikings in August. But with the Vikings stumbling to a 1-5 record, they became sellers and shipped him to the Ravens, who had been linked to the former Maryland star this past spring as well.
Ngakoue already has five sacks this year, which would lead the Ravens; Campbell, fresh off a three-sack performance in the Ravens’ 30-28 win at Philadelphia, leads the team with four. Ngakoue, 25, has had at least eight sacks in every season. He recorded a career-best 12 in 2017 when he was selected to the Pro Bowl.
According to the NFL Network, under the terms of the Ravens trade, if Ngakoue makes the Pro Bowl this year, the fifth-round pick in 2022 will instead become a fourth-rounder.
The pass rush has been considered one of the Ravens’ most pressing needs since the preseason. The Ravens rank second in the league with 22 sacks, but that total was bolstered in the past two weeks against the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles, two teams with major issues on the offensive line, and much of that came from blitzing defensive backs.
The addition of Ngakoue should make defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale less reliant on the blitz to create pressure. If the Ravens can be more disruptive with a four- or five-man rush, then the Ravens secondary, highlighted by Pro Bowl cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Peters, can be in position to create turnovers.
“Rush and cover goes together,” Ngakoue said. “When you rush the quarterback well, your corners and safeties get interceptions. When your corners and safeties cover well, you have more time as a defensive lineman to get to the quarterback. So it all goes hand in hand.”
Ngakoue received the franchise tag this year by the Jaguars before being traded, then agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal with the Vikings. He is due to become a free agent after the season, as are a host of other Ravens including pass rushers Matthew Judon, who received the franchise tag, Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee.
The Ravens cannot work with Ngakoue on any potential extension until after the season, and Ngakoue said he isn’t worrying about that now.
“Things like that I leave up to God, man,” he said. “God, he’s already written out my story. … If it’s meant for me to be here for a long time, then that’s what it is. I’ll be more than excited to be back home. This is where it all started for me with my journey.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings