Ravens get younger, faster on defense in first two rounds

Super Bowl champions aren't supposed to reload, but that's what happened

April 26, 2013|Mike Preston

In theory, the defending Super Bowl champion isn't supposed to get stronger through the NFL draft because the team has the last pick in each round.

That's not the case with the Ravens.

After two days, they have picked up one of the top three players at two different positions. On Thursday, it was University of Florida safety Matt Elam with the No. 32 overall pick.

On Friday night, they got another gem in Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown. The Ravens also picked Missouri Southern defensive tackle Brandon Williams in the third round, but he doesn't have the acclaim of Brown.

The Ravens had to give up two of their remaining 11 draft picks to move up six spots in the second round from No. 62 to No. 56 to select Brown, but it was worth it. With Brown, they have gotten younger, faster and helped strengthen the middle of their defense.

With the No. 94 pick, the Ravens selected defensive tackle Brandon Williams of Missouri Southern State, a 335-pound behemoth.

The Ravens are on a roll.

“We are excited to get Arthur Brown here to Baltimore,” said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' assistant general manager. “He is a guy that we coveted. We thought he was one of the best inside linebackers in this year's draft. We had a chance to see him a lot this fall and also had chance to spend some time with him at the Senior Bowl. He's one of our favorite players.

“He's a guy that plays relentless football. He's good in coverage. We think he's a four-down linebacker who can play in passing situations, play the run and also play on special teams. We are very excited.”

They basically had to make the move and give up picks to get Brown because some of the other inside linebackers they had rated high — LSU's Kevin Minter and Florida's Jonathan Bostic — started to disappear earlier in the second round.

There are some teams that had projected the 6-foot, 242-pound Brown too small to play inside linebacker and that he would have to play outside in the NFL, but the Ravens said Brown will stay inside.

“I'd say in our scheme, he's an inside guy,” said Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting. “He will fill one of our inside backer roles — compete for those spots.”

The Ravens have heard this type of criticism before. In 1996, there was similar sentiment about a middle linebacker coming out of the University of Miami named Ray Lewis. All he did was go on to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award twice, help the team to two Super Bowl trophies and become the greatest to play his position.

This is not to say that Brown is in that class. It would be ludicrous to even make that comparison, especially since Brown hasn't played a down in the NFL. But the Ravens don't mind selecting tweeners, guys who appear too small to play one position and maybe too big or too fast to play another.

And oh, Brown can fly.

Brown isn't the shed-and-shock prototype linebacker who dominates at the point of attack. He runs, chases and hits. He is relentless in pursuit, the type of player the Ravens prefer operating behind big-body defensive linemen like Haloti Ngata, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Arthur Jones.

The Ravens said Friday night that Brown will compete for a starting job, and he is likely to start. Right now, the Ravens don't have many options. Lewis has retired and veteran Jameel McClain is still recovering from spine and neck injuries. Recently signed veteran Rolando McClain has potential, but he also has a troubled past and present, which is a concern.

Brown could fit in nicely and he presents the Ravens with an intriguing linebacking corps. On the outside, they have two of the NFL's top pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. On the inside, they have Brown who. is a good tackler but can play every down because he excels in pass coverage as well.

Williams was a dominant player in MIAA and there are many who think he might have been a first-round pick if he had gone to a major college. But he could help the Ravens in stopping the run, an area where they needed to make major improvement from a year ago.

Overall, the Ravens have to be pleased after the first two days.

Few projected things could work out so well for the Ravens. They wanted to rebuild their defense with youth and speed this offseason, and they have accomplished those goals with the first two picks. In theory, this wasn't supposed to happen.

In reality, it has.

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