Baltimore Ravens

Zachary Orr the newest member of Ravens' successful undrafted linebacker fraternity

It's like a fraternity, Zachary Orr is trying to explain, and in the literal sense of the word, he is correct: The Ravens' undrafted linebackers are a brotherhood, sharing practice reps, small-school pedigrees and the life lessons that have so far kept them kin.

But then again … fraternities are selective. They are coveted. No college student submits to Greek life recruitment hoping to be passed over by every last organization. That is the strange irony of the Ravens' proudest clique: To join, at one point, no one could have wanted you.


It is a small group, numbering just a few members. Albert McClellan, a six-year veteran, is the longest-serving member. Rookie Patrick "Peanut" Onwuasor is the new pledge. Anthony Levine Sr. has partial membership, splitting time with the linebackers and safeties. But Orr is the poster boy for the fraternity that understands "rushing" to mean the ball-carrier.

In his third year in the NFL, he is tied for fourth in the league in total tackles (112), and as free agency approaches this offseason for Orr, so does a historical benchmark. No undrafted Raven has ever led the team outright in a major defensive category. Orr could sit out Monday's clash with the New England Patriots and the three remaining regular-season games and probably still finish his first year as a starter with the team high in solo tackles (79); the next-closest teammate has 40.


One decade after Bart Scott, founder emeritus of the Ravens' undrafted-linebacker fraternity, tied for the team lead in total tackles and earned All-Pro honors, Orr is simply honoring a franchise tradition. In Baltimore, the unexpected becomes expected when it has been done long enough.

"That's what real teammates and real brothers are for," Orr said. "You want to see each other be successful and be better than me. I want to see the next person come and be better than me."

Because what is a fraternity if not a chance for networking and enrichment? During Scott's final year with the Ravens, he was taken with the work ethic of a kid from Philadelphia. Jameel McClain, a Syracuse product not taken in the 2008 draft, had wedged himself into the plans of a rebuilding Ravens team, as Scott had six years earlier coming out of Southern Illinois. Then Dannell Ellerbe (Georgia) made the team in 2009, and McClellan (Marshall) the year after.

When Orr arrived in 2014, there was a history to protect. McClellan took the North Texas star under his wing, as McClellan's forebears had with him. He treated Orr as a little brother.

"He definitely passes [the lessons] down," Orr said. "He tells me the same stuff that he was told, and I'm telling Peanut the same thing that Bert told me."

Their entry-level position is always the same: special teams. McClellan has thrice led the Ravens in tackles on the unit. Orr finished second in 2014. Onwuasor's special teams experience at Portland State was limited to kickoff coverage, but his seven tackles in just seven games this season are most on the team.

Onwuasor is learning by listening to those who have been there (waiting for a call on draft day that never comes) and done that (earned an NFL paycheck anyway). "Come in, work hard — extra hard — do things right and make sure you catch people's eye," he said.

Orr struggled with that last part at North Texas. A first-team All-Conference USA selection, he was fairly certain about two things entering the NFL draft. First, that he'd get taken, maybe as high as the fifth round. Second, that it wouldn't be by the Ravens; he said he'd heard from "pretty much every other team in some way, in some form."


As the late rounds flew by and his name went uncalled, Orr resolved that he would leave his fate to God. Whichever team offered a deal first, he would join. Early in the seventh round, he got a call from an unfamiliar number, belonging to Lonnie Young — a Ravens scout. He was offering a free-agent deal should Orr remain undrafted. He said the Ravens did know who Orr was. He told him about his chances of making the team.

Later that day, a Dallas official called Orr. The former Cowboys fan explained that he was already spoken for. "I learned through my life I wanted to go somewhere I'm wanted," recalled Orr, who booked a 6 a.m. flight out of Austin, Texas, to Baltimore the next day.

If prospects like Orr are the lifeblood of the Ravens' linebacker fraternity, practice gives it a foundation. Orr likes to tell the story of his first meeting with linebackers coach Don Martindale. He remembers listening and looking around in wonder as Martindale rattled off the name of every undrafted player in the room.

They had not gotten there by accident. Unlike other teams that, Orr said, are less egalitarian in their distribution of training camp reps, Martindale sees to it that "you're going to get coached, no matter if you're a first-round draft pick or undrafted player. You're going to get coached the exact same."

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That is how an undrafted player becomes a special teams ace and then a reliable reserve and then a starter on perhaps the league's best defense. That is how Orr finds himself wondering, every so often, what he might be worth on the open market this offseason.

He is frugal, almost to a fault — he's not ashamed to say he still eats meals on paper plates, or that he was on the lookout for good Cyber Monday deals last month. But he would like to pay off the balance on his parents' home in DeSoto, Texas, if only for bragging rights over younger brothers Nick, an All-Big 12 Conference safety at Texas Christian, and Chris, who started last year as a freshman linebacker at Wisconsin.


"I want to be the first one to say, 'Look, this is what I did,'" Orr said, laughing. "'Now it's y'all's turn.'"

That is a message that resonates in Orr's Ravens fraternity, which has all the markers of organizational success: sound leadership, strong finances, promising youth. All it seems to lack, of course, is proper Greek nomenclature.

There are options available. The sorority Alpha Chi Omega, for instance, translates to "the beginning and the end." Flip it, and you have the hard-won perspective of players like Orr, for whom the end — of the draft, of his first year as starter, of a rookie contract — is just the beginning.