James Ihedigbo was a guy not well known by the casual fan over the last five years. The Ravens have a knack for squeezing talent out of guys the rest of the football world passes by. Ihedigbo was passed over by every team in the 2008 draft. The UMass alum would eventually sign on as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets. A hand injury early in his rookie year sent him to IR. Ihedigbo played sparingly for three seasons in New York.
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Prior to the 2011 season, the Jets released Ihedigbo in favor of keeping two other safeties. Brodney Pool and Eric Smith. Neither of which are employed by an NFL team at this point. The New England Patriots scooped him up, and he would have his best season yet, notching 69 tackles. He had a run in with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game where he sacked Joe Flacco once, and had eight tackles, earning himself a spot in the starting lineup in Super Bowl XLVI.
The Patriots waited until after the 2012 preseason wrapped up to release Ihedigbo, a guy who started at strong safety in the biggest game of the year just seven months ago. The Ravens grabbed him to play under Bernard Pollard, and he would return to the big game, earning the ring that eluded him the year before.
Bernard Pollard now plays for the Tennessee Titans, Matt Elam was drafted with the first pick in the draft and Michael Huff was acquired via free agency. We all thought Elam and Ihedigbo would battle in training camp for the SS job. Not only did Ihedigbo win the job and become the starter, he is playing at a very high level. The veteran in his sixth season is playing at a level that has us all pleasantly surprised. Everyone except Ozzie Newsome. Ihedigbo joins the ever growing list of needle in a hay stack football players that only the Ravens scouts and coaches could turn into a special guy.
Seven games into the 2013 season, James Ihedigbo has defensed four passes, and recovered a fumble. According to Pro Football Focus, Ihedigbo ranks in the top ten in Run Stop percentage (4.9%), and excels in making plays near the line of scrimmage(11.4%). He leads all safeties in running play tackles within eight yards of the LOS with 15. In coverage he has allowed 12 catches on 19 balls thrown his way but hasn’t been responsible for allowing a TD. Ihedigbo can also rush the QB, ranking fourth in the league in pass rush productivity (17.6). While yet to record a sack, has two hits and two hurries to his name.
Last year, Bernard Pollard didn’t play on enough pass rushing snaps to qualify, but he did post an 18.5 in pass rush productivity, with two sacks on the year. This year Pollard posts a 13.2 PRP. Ihedigbo has the edge over Pollards 2012 season in stopping the run. Pollard posted a 4.2% run stop mark, but only a 6.0 percent near the LOS.
After this season, James Ihedigbo will be a free agent as his current one year, $780,000 contract will expire. The Ravens will have some big decisions to make moving forward to try to fit under the salary cap as the years go by.
Ihedigbo’s offseason could go a couple different ways. He could be compared statistically to two guys. Bernard Pollard, and Pollards teammate Michael Griffin.
Pollard, who is a year older than Ihedigbo, was given a one year, $2 million deal with a 500k signing bonus by Tennessee. Michael Griffin has played both safety positions, is a former first round pick in 2007, and was given a five year, $35 million contract, $9 million signing bonus in 2012. While listed as a free safety on the Titans depth chart, he plays more like a strong safety as often as he makes plays near the line of scrimmage.
At the $2 million per year price tag, I think Ihedigbo would be able to fit in with what the Ravens are trying to do here. At the $7 million per year price tag, we could see Ihedigbo go the way of Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, playing his way right out of Baltimore. Does he fall somewhere in between?
How much will James Ihedigbo be worth? Some of us don’t even consider Michael Huff a member of this Ravens team, banished to the bench after a lackluster effort in week 1. So will safety be a team need in the upcoming draft?