Ray Lewis' retirement created a void in the middle of the Ravens' defense, motivating the team to leave nothing to chance when acquiring his potential replacement.
So, the Ravens traded three draft picks to make sure they acquired athletic, undersized Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown in the second round.
Trading up six spots with the Seattle Seahawks to select Brown 56th overall, the Ravens exchanged their original second-round pick (62nd overall), a fifth-round selection (165th) and a sixth-rounder (199th) to land the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
"He's a guy that we coveted," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "He's one of our favorite players. We started to sweat a little bit as we started to see some good players go off the board. The idea of not getting him was pretty scary, so we decided to make a move."
Brown was a large part of the Ravens' main ambition this offseason: upgrading the interior of their defense after finishing 20th against the run last season.
Besides drafting hard-hitting Florida safety Matt Elam in the first round, the Ravens picked brawny Missouri Southern defensive tackle Brandon Williams in the third round.
"When we talked after the Super Bowl, we talked about getting stronger up the middle," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Over the past two days, the picks have definitely addressed the middle of our defense."
Brown is expected to immediately compete for a starting job at inside linebacker.
Although Brown is lighter than ideal at 6-foot, 242 pounds, he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds and was a two-time team captain at Kansas State.
The native of Wichita, Kan., has drawn high grades for his athleticism and tackling skills. He literally plays sideline to sideline, chasing people down for 218 career tackles, 17 for losses, and three interceptions.
"Honestly, I really never figured myself to be a smaller linebacker," Brown said during a conference call after being picked. "I know to some it may matter, but you can never measure the heart of a man. It really is just about your willingness to put it all out there. I play with my heart and my passion and my love for the game. You really can’t put a size on that.”
Brown has drawn several comparisons to Lewis primarily because of his relentless, emotional approach to the game. Much like Lewis when he was drafted in the first round by the Ravens during their inaugural draft in 1996, the main question mark surrounding Brown is his lack of size.
"Honestly, it's an honor to even be mentioned in the same sentence as him," Brown said of Lewis. "I have a lot of respect for Ray. Just have an opportunity to fulfill what he was able to accomplish throughout his time frame, is a great honor.”
By drafting Brown, the Ravens are clearly trying to upgrade their speed on defense.
During a highlight that flashed across ESPN after the Ravens made their pick, Brown was shown respectably gaining ground on Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III when he was at Baylor.
Director of college scouting Joe Hortiz even mentioned San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman when asked what player reminds him of Brown.
"Really instinctive player who plays hard every snap, finds his way to the ball," director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "So, he can really run. He has great lateral range. He's just a leader, great kid. He's passed every test along the way. He's a little undersized. He's fast, and he's instinctive and tough."
Brown was a Parade Magazine All-American in high school, a blue-chip recruit faster than most running backs who didn't find success after enrolling at the University of Miami after considering LSU, USC and Florida.
"Truthfully, during that time, I was really in need of just the support and my family," Brown said. "My father thought it would be best for me to come back home in regards to just the opportunity that lies there, and initially I didn’t want to. I eventually followed through with his advice and made well during my time and my career at Kansas State.”
Over the past two seasons, Brown definitely put his stamp on the Kansas State defense with a combined 201 tackles.
He returned one of his two interceptions last season for a touchdown and had three career sacks.
"Definitely, a player that possesses great instincts, the athletic ability and the heart to elevate those natural skills," said Brown, whose brother, Bryce Brown, plays running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. "I'm a downhill, hard-nosed type of player. I love to run. I'm versatile. I'm not limited to any particular one linebacker position."
Brown met with the Ravens at the NFL scouting combine and also conducted a private workout for them, but didn't visit team headquarters.
The Ravens demonstrated just how much they liked Brown by executing a trade to get him.
"I appreciate them because it shows that they believe in me as a player and as a person," Brown said. "Picking me where they did just shows me that they believe in me, and I am definitely ready to be a big part of this team.”
Williams is a Division II All-American who's slated to compete with Terrence Cody at nose guard. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Cody is recovering well from offseason hip surgery and is off crutches.
"He looks great," Harbaugh said of Cody. "He feels really good.'
Williams excelled at the small-school level with 182 career tackles and 25 sacks, opening scouts' eyes by how he competed against elite offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl.
The 6-foot-1, 335-pounder bench pressed 225 pounds 38 times at the NFL scouting combine where he met informally with the Ravens.
"He's a big man, he's in really good shape," DeCosta said. "It's tough to find these types of body types to play in the 3-4 defense. We think he's a really good fit for us. When you're looking at a small-school prospect, that's one thing that you want to see: a guy that dominates in a game."
Williams visited the Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams and the Carolina Panthers, but thought the Ravens were the team that liked him the most because they kept scouting him at his school.
"I was like, 'I would love to be a Raven, I would love to be on that defense,'" Williams said. "I know how nasty it is, I know how physical it is. That's exactly what I feel like I am, and I definitely wanted to be a Raven."
The draft starts up again today at noon. The Ravens have the following remaining picks: fourth (129th, 130th), fifth (168th), sixth (200th, 203rd) and seventh (238th, 247th).
Linebacker, Kansas State
Ht., Wt.: 6 foot, 242 pounds
Born: June 17, 1990 in Wichita, Kan.
College highlights: All-American selection was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season as he recorded 100 tackles, seven for losses, four interceptions and a sack. ... University of Miami transfer was a two-time team captain at Kansas State. ... Finished with 218 career tackles, 17 for losses, five interceptions and three sacks.
Personal: Brown's brother, Bryce Brown, plays running back for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz: “Really instinctive player who plays hard every snap, finds his way to the ball, shows very good speed. That was Robert Griffin he was tracking outside on that highlight, so he can really run. He's just a leader, a great kid who has passed every test along the way.”
Aaron Wilson's analysis: Ravens are on a quest to build a more athletic defense, and Brown provides a relentless, rangy presence inside that has sparked comparisons to a young Ray Lewis.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun