Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome always talks about taking the best player available, but the early picks in this year's NFL draft have fit perfectly into the blueprint that he laid out during the team's postseason news conference in early February.
The Ravens knew they would have to replace Ray Lewis and they probably knew that Ed Reed would end up going elsewhere. They also had a pretty good idea that linebacker Paul Kruger would not be able to resist the syren call of free agency. So Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti made it clear that they would not perform contractual gymnastics to hold together the Super Bowl defense.
What they didn't say -- and didn't have to -- was that they wouldn't have been satisfied with another year oflast year's defense, not after giving up more rushing yards than any team in Ravens franchise. The focus of the offseason has been retooling the run defense and getting younger and cheaper in the defensive backfield.
Mission accomplished. First-round pick Matt Elam has the potential to start at strong safety and replace some of the anger that Bernard Pollard brought to the position. Linebacker Arthur Brown probably isn't going to make anybody forget Ray Lewis, but he is expected to develop into a dependable starting middle linebacker. Third-round pick Brandon Williams is an under-the-radar defensive tackle who impressed everyone at the Senior Bowl and the combine and fourth pick John Simon was the defensive player of the year in the Big Ten last year.
Will the Ravens be a better defensive team than they were a year ago? It certainly looks that way. Though the learning curve for young players can be unpredictable, the defense clearly is younger and faster.