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Deep safety draft class gives Ravens options

Matt Elam isn't the only safety from the University of Florida who may interest the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL draft later this week.

And actually, to National Football Post NFL scouting director Russ Lande, a former NFL scout, it's Josh Evans, Florida's starter at safety next to Elam, who may ultimately prove to be the better player of the two at the NFL level.

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Elam is projected by most as a likely late first- or early second-round selection in this week's NFL draft. Evans, meanwhile, appears more likely to come off the board during the third or fourth round.

Evans had 79 tackles and three interceptions as a senior at Florida last season. At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, he measured in at 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, considered a solid time for a safety. Also at the combine, Evans recorded the best time among safeties in the 3-cone drill (6.61 seconds) and the sixth-best time in the 20-yard shuttle (4.10 seconds).

The 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle are both designed primarily to test an athlete's lateral quickness and change-of-direction ability.

Evans was one of several safeties the Ravens met with at the combine.

"I think Evans is a guy the Ravens could look at," Lande said. "He was the starter opposite Elam at Florida and I think he's a smoother athlete than Elam, much better in pass coverage and he's probably a guy in the third round that's going to be sitting there and would be a great value and, a year from now, would probably challenge to be a starter. I think he'd be a great value pick in either the third or fourth round."

But whether it's with Evans, Elam or a different safety entirely, Baltimore appears likely to add a safety at some point during the draft, one who, depending on the player, could challenge veteran James Ihedigbo for the starting job at strong safety.

Fortunately for the Ravens, this year's class of safeties is one that NFL Network NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock said in February is the deepest in recent memory.

Elam and Evans are among 12 safeties CBSSports.com has listed as talents worthy of being selected during the first four rounds.

"The safeties, I think it's a great group of guys. ... There are a lot of guys this year," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said at Baltimore's pre-draft luncheon last week. "We've looked at a lot of them, obviously. We spent a lot of time on all of those players, and I think it's an exciting group. [General manager Ozzie Newsome] has already said that there is a good chance that we will take at least one safety at some point in the draft. Numbers-wise, I think, that's very accurate."

Elam, John Cyprien (FIU) and Eric Reid (LSU) are three safeties that could warrant interest from Baltimore as early as the first round.

But, because of depth of this year's group, Lande and NFLDraftScout.com NFL draft analyst Rob Rang both also said that the Ravens have the capability to pass in the first round of the draft and still find a talented player later on, whether it's a player like Phillip Thomas (Fresno State) or D.J. Swearinger (South Carolina) in the second round, a player like Bacarri Rambo (Georgia), J.J. Wilcox (Georgia Southern) or Evans in the third round or with a player like Shawn Williams (Georgia), Shamarko Thomas (Syracuse) or T.J. McDonald (USC) in the fourth round.

"The depth of this year's group is great," Lande said. "When you look at second- and third-rounders, there are a lot of good football players this year."

Said Rang: "I think the depth of this year's group gives the Ravens, and a lot of other clubs, a lot of flexibility, just because of the fact that you don't have to reach for one of the safeties. It's been several years since we've seen a safety class like this one."

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