Situation Impossible is a weekly column focusing on the most devastating injury of the week in the NFL. "Next Man Up" is a catchy phrase, but some players are harder to replace than others. Here we investigate the alternatives on hand and how a team reacted or will react to having to replace star-level performance.
Injured player: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens edge rusher and one of just seven active players with 100+ career sacks.
Injury and diagnosis: A torn Achilles should shelve Suggs for the rest of the season. And at 33 years old when the NFL kicks off in 2016, Suggs could find himself out of the league next season. A torn Achilles is one of the worst injuries a football player can sustain. Even players who have come back from it, like Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans, don't necessarily come back with the same burst. In 2016, Suggs could find himself in the shoes of Dwight Freeney this year. NFL teams do not like to gamble on players who are both old and perceived as injury risks.
What's missing: Sack and hurry production. Suggs has been one of the best in the NFL at providing it over the past two seasons.
Terrell Suggs' 2013-2014 Production
FO QB Knockdowns
Pernell McPhee fled in free agency over the offseason. So the Ravens find themselves with no established secondary rusher next to underrecognized star Elvis Dumervil.
What the team will do: The Ravens have already brought in former Jets edge player Jason Babin. Babin's had an interesting career. He is a late bloomer who burst on the scene with the Titans at age 30. He was one of the few parts of the "Dream Team" Eagles who held up his end of the bargain in 2011, when he notched a career-high 18 sacks. The Eagles traded him to Jacksonville afterwards, and he led the team in sacks in 2013. (This wasn't hard to do, as he only had 7.5.) Last year he played for the Jets as their third edge-rusher and played pretty well. Football Outsiders credited him 11.8 hurries and nine hits in 459 snaps.
The easy projection here is for Babin to replace Suggs on passing downs. That leaves 2012 second-round pick Courtney Upshaw playing in the base package. Upshaw has been a categoric disappointment as an edge rusher, with just three sacks in three seasons. But he hasn't been awful against the run, and shouldn't be a terrible fit in that role as long as the Ravens don't ask much else from him.
X-Factor: The expectations in Baltimore for replacing Suggs' rush production actually may fall on a pair of rookies: Iowa's Carl Davis (third round) and Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith (fourth round). Davis played end in about half of the snaps in his debut and flashed some disruption. General manager Ozzie Newsome has a great track record and fans tend to assume that any skilled player he drafts in the middle or later rounds will succeed. It would help Baltimore's odds of replacing Suggs if that's the case with Davis.
Smith was an interesting pick. He came out as a much more polished player than fellow Kentucky defender Bud Dupree, who went in the first round. Smith demonstrated an arsenal of layered pass-rush moves in college. There wasn't anywhere near as much physical upside as Dupree, which was why Smith fell to the fourth round. But there may be some untapped potential here as well. Smith did not play in the opener at all.
Adjusting our expectations: Actually, the Ravens are in a decent position to replace Suggs. Any time you lose a player of Suggs' caliber, it hurts. It's the sort of injury that would lead you to lop off about a half-win on a season-long projection of a team.
But what do you want to have when a star player goes down? A chance at competent play on all downs, and players around him that can potentially pick up the slack. Babin is a fine stab at finding an established level of play. The Ravens also have some interesting young players that could take the pressure off Babin if they play well. It's rare that a team loses a star-caliber player and just turns to another star-caliber player off the bench. These losses have to be overcome with attrition and potential.
This hurts. But you can't ask for much more depth in place to try to staunch a wound like the one losing Suggs left on Baltimore's defense.