On Friday night, the Ravens watched the names of linebackers such as Manti Te’o, Kevin Minter and Jonathan Bostic come off the board. Sensing they might not get one of the players they coveted in the first couple of rounds in the draft, they sent two late picks to Seattle to move up six spots and select speedy Arthur Brown.
If you’ve been reading this blog over the past few weeks, you probably know that I like this pick. I wrote about how Brown, who starred at Kansas State, was an intriguing prospect. And you probably also know that I don’t think inside linebackers are really valuable unless they can cover well enough to play on all three downs.
Well assistant general Eric DeCosta one-upped me just now while explaining why the Ravens wanted Brown.
“We think he’s a four-down linebacker who can play in passing situations and also against the run and on special teams. We’re very excited,” DeCosta said before retreating back to the war room.
If he giggled the whole way back, I wouldn’t have blamed him.
Brown was one of the top inside linebackers in the draft and was regarded by many draft analysts as a player who should have come off in the board late in the first round or early in the second.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated is one of a few notable draft mockers who had the Ravens taking Brown. In Round One.
DeCosta claimed the Ravens considered Brown in the first but opted for Florida safety Matt Elam, another prospect I really liked. Whether that is true or not, Brown was still a steal for the Ravens.
“He’s a guy we coveted. He’s one of the best inside linebackers in this year’s draft,” DeCosta said. “We had a chance to see him a lot this fall and also had a chance to spend some time with him at the Senior Bowl. He’s one of our favorite players. Coaches like him. Scouts like him. He’s a guy that plays relentless football.”
Added Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, “He’s a really instinctive player. He plays hard every snap. He finds his way to the ball. He has very good speed. … He’s got great lateral range.”
Pressed for a comparable player in the NFL, Hortiz name-dropped San Francisco 49ers All-Pro inside linebacker Navarro Bowman.
I won’t tread too much on the post I wrote about Brown a few weeks ago -- seriously, just read it already -- but Brown fared well while covering tight ends and running backs in college and he had great range against the run. He will compete hard for a starting job.
With their first two picks, the Ravens made it clear that not only are they trying to strengthen the middle of their defense, they are putting a premium on speed, versatility and athleticism as they head into life after graybeards Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
As the NFL continues to evolve as a passing league and we see more players -- and I’m not just talking about wide receivers here -- spread across the line of scrimmage, the Ravens added a pair of players in Brown and Elam who should be able to run with tight ends and running backs and the occasional slot receiver.
As we saw against teams like Philadelphia, San Francisco and Houston, whose tight ends did a lot of damage down the field, the Ravens struggled to defend the middle of the field at times.
If Brown and Elam become the players I think they will become, that might not be the case for much longer.