With the recent retirement of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and loss of all-pro safety Ed Reed to free agency, the Baltimore Ravens’ defense will never be the same. But that doesn’t mean they won’t still be a very good defensive team. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome used this past 2013 NFL draft to make sure of that.
The Ravens’ management used its first four picks of the draft on defensive players; the first two picks were used on some of the highest-rated players in their particular positions and could end up becoming cornerstones of the Ravens’ defense for years to come.
With the 32nd overall pick in the first round, the Ravens selected Florida safety Matt Elam. Known as a thumper on the back line, Elam was feared by receivers and running backs throughout his college career for his hard hitting. He is projected to be a starter at the strong safety at the position for the Ravens, where he can replace the void left when Bernard Pollard was released this offseason. Elam will actually wear the jersey number 31, the same number Pollard wore. But unlike Pollard, Elam’s skills aren’t limited to just knocking offensive players senseless near the line of scrimmage. Elam also has excellent ball fielding skills and a pair of great hands, which will help him cover receivers and make interceptions down field.
Elam was projected to go earlier in the first round so it was a steal for the Ravens to draft him at pick number 32, the same way it was a steal for them to pick up Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown in the second round. The Ravens traded up to pick 56 to snatch Brown because many teams were eyeing him in the second round. Brown was one of the highest-rated players coming out of high school and started his college career at the University of Miami, the same school Ray Lewis attended. But Brown eventually transferred to KSU to get more playing time and immediately began to stand out. He was elected captain of the defense and produced stellar numbers on the field, including 100 tackles, seven tackles for losses and two interceptions recorded last season in 2012. Brown won’t be the next Ray Lewis, but who will? No one will ever be able to fill Ray Lewis’ shoes, but Brown will turn out to be a very productive linebacker for the Ravens.
In the third round, the Ravens added more beef to their defensive line by selecting Missouri Southern defensive tackle Brandon Williams. At 6-foot-1, 335 pounds, Williams is a big boy who will help clog up the running lanes of opposing offensive units. Williams did play for a small school so there were questions about the competition he faced, but there are no questions about his physical and athletic abilities. Williams had a very impressive 38 reps on the bench press at the NFL combine. He even has video footage of him walking on his hands and back flipping into pools on YouTube. Big guys normally aren’t as athletic as Williams so it’s not hard to understand why Newsome was willing to draft him in the third round.
Williams will serve in the trenches with the Ravens fourth round draft pick, Ohio State defensive end John Simon. One of the reasons the Ravens’ defensive unit fell off last season and finished below the top 10 for the first time in 10 years was because of the lost of outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson in free agency. Johnson never got the praise that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed received, but he did a masterful job of performing tasks that don’t show up on the stats sheet, like setting the edge on the outside against the run, forcing running backs to cut back where linebackers like Lewis were waiting. Simon has a knack for performing the same duties that Johnson did, which is imperative for the Ravens’ defense in its quest to return to elite status.
The Ravens used their final six picks from round 4-7 on Harvard tight end/fullback Kyle Juszczyk, Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner, Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, Colorado State-Pueblo center Ryan Jensen, Elon receiver Aaron Mellette and California cornerback Marc Anthony.