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Comparing Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith and Dannell Ellerbe, the one who got away

In March, amidst their offseason shopping spree, the Miami Dolphins grabbed middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe off the shelf and shelled out $35 million with $17 million guaranteed for him at the cash register.

Three months later, the Ravens pulled veteran middle linebacker Daryl Smith, who was somehow still on the open market, out of the bargain bin and gave him a cheap one-year deal worth up to $2.125 million.

With Miami being the next stop on the Ravens reunion tour, as Ellerbe and the Dolphins are hosting the Ravens on Sunday, now seems like a good time to check on how Ellerbe is doing with his new team and to compare and contrast his performance with that of Smith, the new man in the middle for the Ravens.

Ellerbe has played all but one defensive snap this season and has been asked to do a little bit of everything, including dropping into coverage often and blitzing the quarterback occasionally. He leads the Dolphins, who are tied for 15th in the NFL in scoring defense, with 38 tackles in four games and the 27-year-old has also recovered a fumble.

But Ellerbe has missed a team-high six tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, which has graded him in the red for two of his four games in Miami. His negative-5.2 overall grade is the second-worst on the Dolphins defense. They gave him a negative-5.5 grade against the run, which is surprising because he defended the run well during his time here.

Of course, Ellerbe, who played weak-side linebacker for the Ravens when Ray Lewis was in the lineup, is in a totally new defensive scheme and appears to still be finding his way with the Dolphins. He is not off to a good start, though.

Smith, 31, is off to a much better start here in Baltimore. The veteran has not missed a single defensive snap and he leads the Ravens with 37 tackles, two interceptions and six passes defended. He also has 1.5 sacks in four games. His savvy pick-six of Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub turned the tide in a 30-9 Ravens win in Week 3.

Like Ellerbe, though, Smith has been graded in the red twice by Pro Football Focus. They have him graded at plus-0.5 overall with positive grades for his pass rushing and pass coverage and a negative grade for his run defense.

The Ravens were interested in re-signing Ellerbe after the Super Bowl, but given their tight salary cap situation, there was no way they could get in the same stratosphere of what the Dolphins offered. Smith was the cheaper alternative, and while it is too early to conclude that he is the better alternative, he has solidified the middle linebacker spot.

Time will tell if the Dolphins eventually get bang for their megabucks with Ellerbe, who plays his old team Sunday.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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