Carroll County Times

Ravens continue defensive transformation through draft

As Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said late Saturday, the Ravens leave NFL draft weekend with a roster that looks much stronger and much deeper than it did as recently as a few days ago. Especially defensively.

First-round safety Matt Elam gives the Ravens a likely starter next to Michael Huff. Second-round inside linebacker Arthur Brown has been compared by some to 49ers Pro Bowler Navorro Bowman and upgrades a position considered by most to be Baltimore's biggest area of concern heading into the draft. Third-round nose tackle Brandon Williams is a big, strong and athletic player who will immediately push for playing time at one of the Ravens' biggest problem areas last season. And fourth-round outside linebacker John Simon provides another capable pass rusher to go along with Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw.

Do the Ravens still have question marks at left tackle and wide receiver? Yes. But they do leave the draft with those aforementioned players as well as with added depth along the offensive line, the draft's consensus top-rated fullback, an intriguing small-school wide receiver and a late-round cornerback who was projected to go much earlier as recently as a couple months ago.

"We like all of the guys that we have brought into this class," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said Saturday. "We're just looking forward to now getting them here and letting [coach] John [Harbaugh] and his staff work with them."

In terms of the defense, though, think back to late-March before Baltimore signed Dumervil.

At that point, to put it simply, the Ravens' defense was a unit in transition.

Ray Lewis had retired. Starting strong safety Bernard Pollard had been released. Future Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed had recently signed elsewhere as a free agent, as had starting inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, last year's leading sacker Paul Kruger and starting cornerback Cary Williams.

Baltimore had bolstered the defensive line by signing Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, but there were glaring holes at inside linebacker and safety and significant question marks at both outside linebacker and nose tackle.

A little more than a month later, the defense bears little resemblance to that depleted unit and, at least on paper, is now without any glaring weakness.

"We lost a lot of good players after the season, and we are just trying to restock and build more depth and have good competition at all positions," Newsome said. "That's really what this whole thing is about."

Added Harbaugh: "It's good to see the draft shake out. It's one thing to have draft picks and have prospects and guys you are evaluating. It's another to have Ravens, to have players on your depth chart. One of the things I do during this process is kind of fill out the depth chart as we go, and it's a lot stronger, it's a lot deeper right now. We have competition at most spots. ... I am really excited about our personnel generally."

Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens' brass were particularly enthusiastic about the additions to the middle of the defense - Elam at safety, Brown at inside linebacker and Williams at nose tackle.

Elam lacks prototypical height (5-foot-10) for the safety position, but he's a player who earns high praise for his physicality, his athleticism, his versatility and his instincts.

He was an AP first-team All American as a junior at Florida last season, finishing the season with 76 tackles, including 11 for a loss along with four interceptions.

Brown was viewed by most as a first-round talent, and the Ravens actually considered taking him in the first round, but he ultimately slid to the latter part of the second round largely because of question marks about his size (6-foot, 242 pounds).

But, despite the question marks about his size, Brown is a player highly regarded for his athleticism, motor and physicality and was considered by most to be one of the most adept linebackers in this year's class at dropping into pass coverage.

He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American as a senior at Kansas State last season.

And in Williams, the Ravens are getting a 6-foot-1, 335-pound nose tackle who dominated the Division II level at Missouri Southern and impressed Baltimore at the Senior Bowl in January.

"We've made some picks that we think strengthen the interior of our defense," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said Friday, later adding, "I think these guys are really stabilizing forces."