Cameron Heyward has the toughness that the Ravens covet. He has the versatility that fits their defense. And he has the bloodline that says he will tackle the NFL head-first.
Heyward, a defensive lineman out of Ohio State, is the son of Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, an NFL running back who played 11 seasons with five different teams before succumbing to a brain tumor after a seven-year battle in May 2006.
While Heyward wanted to take a different path than his father, he affectionately talks about his striking resemblance to him.
"A big head," he said. "He used his to gain yards. I use mine to stop people."
Pedigree could play a role in the Ravens' draft this week, especially on the defensive side. In addition to Heyward, Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan and Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews all had fathers who made names for themselves in the NFL.
Heyward is expected to be available when the Ravens select 26th on Thursday night. Jordan would have to surprisingly slip out of the top 20 in order to fall to the Ravens. And Matthews is projected to get drafted in the middle rounds.
"You know that they've had the opportunity to grow up around the NFL," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Do they understand thoroughly what the NFL is all about? Some do and some don't."
It was a slow maturation process for Jordan, the son of six-time Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan. He solidified himself as a playmaker as a senior when he recorded 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Jordan also forced three fumbles, returning one 21 yards for a touchdown against Washington.
Jordan would improve the Ravens' pass rush and athleticism on the edge. But he is expected to go as high as No. 11 to Houston and as low as No. 20 to Tampa Bay.
"For a long time, I was always Steve Jordan's kid," Jordan told the Oakland Tribune. "I always heard Cameron Jordan could be great, that I had so much potential. That was the story of my life. Everybody else had high expectations for me. I was just enjoying life. It just took awhile for it to sink in."
Matthews has a more extended NFL heritage. His grandfather Clay played defensive end for San Francisco in the 1950s and his father Clay Jr., played linebacker for 19 seasons for Cleveland and Atlanta. His brother, Clay, was a first-round pick by Green Bay two years ago and was the runner-up for NFL defensive player of the year.
The Ravens have shown interest in Matthews, meeting with him at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine. He has been projected to go anywhere from the third to fifth rounds.
His instincts and work ethic could be a major upgrade at inside linebacker for the Ravens. And starting next to Ray Lewis wouldn't be too much for Matthews to handle considering the expectations stemming from his family's success.
"Friends will ask me if I feel pressure," Casey Matthews said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself seeing the success my dad had and my brother is having. I put pressure on myself to get to their level."
One of the best bets for the Ravens in the first round is Heyward. He can be the eventual replacement at defensive end for Cory Redding, who is entering the final year of his contract. He can also move inside on pass-rushing situations.
While he's not an explosive pass rusher, he is stout against the run and is considered one of the safest picks near the bottom of the first round.
Heyward really impressed the Ravens and the rest of the NFL at the Sugar Bowl. He tore an elbow ligament — which went on to sideline him for the combine and his pro day — but he refused to leave the game. Heyward continued to harass Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and tackle running backs behind the line.
"He's a football player," said Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "He's not flashy. He makes plays, grinds and works hard at it. He's tough and plays tough — just like his dad was."