April 28, 2013

RAVENS HAVE "A" DRAFT FOR THE FUTURE

The Ravens entered the 2013 NFL Draft not only as the defending Super Bowl Champions, but almost as needy as a team that finished the 2012 season with seven wins and out of the playoffs, at least when it comes to the defensive side of the football.

The Super Bowl champions entered Thursday’s first round with, AFC high 12 picks, and based on what they lost in free agency, the Ravens had to have a repeat of the success of past drafts. Known for his draft acumen and acute working of the free agent system, Ravens General Manager and Vice President of operations, Ozzie Newsome and his highly touted scouting department needed to be at their very best heading into one of the deeper drafts in recent years.

Although this draft did not have a marquee name, it did possess the quality of depth that teams with good scouting departments could thrive on for years to come. Baltimore’s defense lost six of 11 Super Bowl starters, in addition to pass-rushing specialist Paul Kruger (who did not start the game).

Three of the four starting defensive backs are gone, as are three members of the front seven. Included in the missing for next season will be what many considered the heart and soul of the Ravens franchise for the past 16-years, No.52, future Hall of Fame linebacker, Ray Lewis.

Though free agent QB and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco returned, the offense was not unaffected. Baltimore traded away veteran WR Anquan Boldin, who could have easily been the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII and the quarterback of the offensive line, veteran center Matt Birk, who retired.

All told, eight of the nine most veteran Ravens from the Super Bowl team are no longer on the team that hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy less than three months ago in New Orleans. No defending Super Bowl Champ had ever lost more than five starters heading into the following season, and it is likely that no defending SB Champ lost two-guaranteed future Hall of Famers, as the Ravens did.

That’s where the Wizard comes into play. GM Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta (Assistant General Manager), Joe Hortiz (Director of College Scouting) and as many as 19 other members of the Ravens scouting department are considered amongst the best in the business and entered this draft salivating at its possibilities.

Newsome entered this draft much differently than he did the last time the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000. Ozzie vowed following the Super Bowl in N.O., that he would not make the same mistake he did when the Ravens won their first Super Bowl 13 years ago in Tampa.

Following that championship, Newsome signed many of its veterans to contract extensions or restructured them in order to keep that team’s nucleus together. The moves left the Ravens with a team that got old and very costly, very quickly. Although the Ravens would, return to the playoffs in 2001, these moves hurt the team’s chances to build a consistent contender.

Following the 2001 season, the Ravens would visit the postseason just twice during the next six seasons, eventually leading to a 5-11 record and the firing of Coach Brian Billick following the 2007 season.

Head Coach John Harbaugh was a big proponent of not keeping this Super Bowl winning team as it was and said so during an interview in March when he said, “The worst mistake you can make is trying to hold a team together”. "It's impossible."

Newsome spoke to reporters last week before the NFL Draft and spoke of the plan the team has had in place for quite some time. “What happened after we won the Super Bowl, that’s something that Steve, John and I probably started talking about in October, November, as to what the team was going to look like in 2013,” Newsome said. “It wasn’t that one day we woke up and decided that we were going to let a lot of really good football players walk away and play for other teams, but we had a plan in place. We had to allow the plan to unfold.”

When asked specifically about the heavy turnover his team has suffered, Newsome said, “The plan unfolded after we won the Super Bowl, which makes it really, really nice, but it also makes it really, really tough when you go to battle with guys, and then you have to see them walk away from your organization, because we have to prepare for ’2014, ’15 and ’16,”.

“Steve (Bisciotti) has put the four of us in charge of making sure that we remain a competitive football team, even over the course of that, “Newsome said.

Through the years, the cornerstone of the Ravens success has been the NFL Draft. Ozzie has already done a nice job in free agency with acquisitions like Elvis Dumervil, Michael Huff, Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.

As the draft approached, Newsome and his staff felt pressure to have another “A” type of draft. After all, this was an unprecedented experiment by a front office that has done and tried almost everything in their quest to be one of the league’s best. Never before had a Super Bowl champion lost this many starters.

However, if history was any indication, this was the type of draft the Ravens would dominate, especially considering the amount of picks they owned. Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, the Ravens have had 17 drafts and selected 17 players in the first round. There have been 30 different players earning 53 combined Pro Bowls, several All-Rookie honors, multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards and two Super Bowl MVP honors.  Of those 30----16 are homegrown players – 15 drafted and one signed as a rookie free agent.

Of the 22 players who started in Super Bowl XLVII, 12 were drafted and two were signed as undrafted rookie free agents. Heading into the 78th NFL Draft, 22 players out of the Ravens’ 23 draft choices since 2010 are currently on the team’s 2013 roster.

One of the adjectives used to describe the Ravens last season, especially their defense was “aging”. However, if there was one thing the Ravens have accomplished so far this offseason it is that they got younger. The six oldest players from the 2012 team are gone, defensive back Chris Johnson, at 33, is currently the oldest Raven on the roster at more than two years older than the second-most-senior player, fullback Vonta Leach.

They continued getting younger this weekend as they added value picks at positions of need and as usual, appeared to stay true to their draft board. The Ravens board is one of the few in the NFL that does not use the NFL Central scouting system.

This past weekend, the Ravens used their own scouting system to add 10 picks to the 39 draft choices they have made since John Harbaugh assumed head coaching duties in 2008. Not since 2008 have the Ravens added so many players during the Draft. During the past five drafts, Newsome, Harbaugh and company have selected 23 offensive players and 16 defensive players. This past weekend the gang added six more on defense and four more on offense.

There is always a ton of scouting reports and analysis on draft prospects. Here is a combination of what some of the top scouting sites had to say about the Ravens draftees, as well as my own analysis. Over the next three days I will breakdown and eventually give my grade for the Ravens 2013 NFL Draft.

Here is the Ravens breakdown of their top three selections.

Round 1, Pick 32 (32): Matt Elam, S, Florida:

Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 205 pounds:

With Ed Reed signing with the Houston Texans and Bernard Pollard being cut, the Ravens lost their two starting safeties from the Super Bowl team. The signing of versatile safety Michael Huff eased the pain a bit but the Ravens had to have one in this draft and not just any safety would do.

The last time the team was coming off a Super Bowl championship (2001), Baltimore stood pat at the 31st and last spot during the first round, coming away with Arizona State tight end Todd Heap, who became the club's all-time leading receiver. On Thursday night, amid a flurry of trade activity involving late-round teams and stunning falls from grace for some top prospects, the Ravens again ended up in a unique position to select one of the players they coveted the most, Florida safety Matt Elam.

Although many expected Newsome to select of one of the inside linebackers, he chose Elam instead.  As a resident of the Sunshine State, I have watched Elam’s career blossom in the “Swamp” and if ever there was a player that fits the mold of the Raven Way, it is Elam. With that said, the pick still raised a few eyebrows and amped up feelings of need as the “inside” of the defense still felt naked.

Even Fanspeak’s resident draft expert, Stephen Shoup will tell you that building the front seven is how you build a defense. This is not a knock on Elam but merely a concern for what many fans felt was more of a need, especially with Lewis retiring and Ellerbe taking his talents to South Beach.

Newsome was confident and firm in selection, even ecstatic and could not hide his joy when talking about the pick. "[Elam] was the highest-rated player on our board. He is one of the better tacklers we've seen play the position. Whether he makes the starting lineup right away depends on the coaching staff, but he could be a special-teams presence right away for us."

NFL.COM SAYS:  Elam is a hard hitter and produced one of the best highlight reels of any draft prospect.  A two-year starter in Gators' secondary entered the college ranks as the top high school safety prospect. His older brother Abe Elam has paved the way for Matt to make it in the NFL. He was a two-way player in high school, but Elam made the transition to safety shortly after focusing on special teams during his freshman season in 2010.

NFL DRAFT SCOUT SAYS:  He is athletic, instinctive and quite physical, Elam demonstrated the ability to walk up into the box and be a force near the line of scrimmage while also dropping back into coverage as a single-high safety when coaches called for it -- showing off the type of versatility NFL teams are demanding from today's hybrid safeties.

WEAKNESSES:  Lacks preferred size for the position. Too often loses out on 50-50 balls, being forced to attempt to rip away at the hands of the receiver as he attempts to come down with the catch. Highly aggressive downhill tackler who can come in too hot and lose control, leaving cut-back lanes.

Tends to lead with his shoulder and will leave his feet to make the lights-out hit, resulting in some ugly lunges and misses. Good, not great lateral agility and can get left grasping at air. The same good, not great lateral agility shows up in coverage where Elam can lose positioning against slot receivers, though he does have a nice burst to close quickly.

Elam has twice had run-ins with police regarding minor in possession offenses involving alcohol (July 2010, July 2011).

RAVENS.com WEAKNESS: Elam is one of the higher profile prospects at his position due to his onfield emotion and energy when lining up big hits in the open field. The junior thrives when his number is called, and Elam was very visible since he frequently lined up in the box at strong safety. However, when looking beyond the splash plays, Elam lacks urgency and can be seen standing around while others make the play. That combined with his tendency to launch himself at ball carriers rather than make form tackles might have caused some scouts to be a bit apprehensive.

PROJECTED ROLE FOR GAME 1: Starting safety alongside Michael Huff


Round 2, Pick 24 (56) (from Seahawks): Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State:

Height/Weight: 6-foot, 242 pounds

School: Kansas State

Position: Inside linebacker ("Will," or weak side)

This was the pick I expected the Ravens to make when they chose Elam. This is also the pick that epitomizes the expression, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good”.

Once the Ravens traded up in round two with the Seahawks, and all of the other top rated linebackers were gone, including some of the not so top rated linebackers, I exhaled and cheered all at one time. This pick made the Elam selection look even better and this is the pick I point to as the future of the Ravens defense.

Jeff Reynolds of The Sports Xchange had this to say. “One linebacker becomes an All-Pro...Arthur Brown of Kansas State got little press in Manhattan and isn't yet a headliner, but he'll make like NaVorro Bowman and go from overlooked rookie to most wanted in short order. Brown can play inside or outside linebacker and his experience stopping the run and in coverage showed scouts he'll play all three downs with the kind of verve coaches want from their defensive captain. This isn't a knock on Manti Te'o or Alec Ogletree as much as a nudge to the limelight for Brown.” 

RAVENS.com SAYS: Brown has similarities to the man he's looking to step in for, future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. Both linebackers are known for their impressive sideline-to-sideline speed, but fell down draft boards mostly over concern about their small stature. Brown is somewhat undersized as a middle linebacker, but he had the speed to cover tight ends, running backs and slot receivers coming over the middle of the field. This is the first time in franchise history that the Ravens have an opening at middle linebacker, and the spotlight will be on Brown from the time he arrives in Baltimore. Handling that pressure and expectations will be critical for him to settle in and succeed during his rookie season.

NFL SCOUT SAYS: Instinctive, physical defender who, other than his lack of ideal size, ranks among the surest prospects of the 2013 draft. Possesses excellent key and diagnosis skills. Often takes his initial step toward where the play is designed to go before the quarterback has finished taking the snap. Possesses explosive, active hands to quickly slip blocks and plays with excellent leverage, bending at the knees to consistently get under the pads of would-be blockers and pushing them aside to make the play in the hole. Very good balance to avoid cut blocks and when knocked to the ground; remarkably quick in popping back up. Very good sideline-to-sideline speed, which could allow him to remain at inside linebacker in the NFL. Drops back into coverage fluidly, demonstrating not only the athleticism but the awareness to handle this responsibility in the NFL. Times his blitz well with the snap, showing the flexibility to slip past blockers, flatten out and close on the quarterback.

NFL.com Overview: The brother of the Philadelphia Eagles' 2012 seventh-round draft pick, running back Bryce Brown, transferred from Miami (Fla.) to see the field more regularly. It didn't take long for Arthur to make an impact at Kansas State and became the Wildcats' most consistent force on the defensive side of the ball during his tenure in Manhattan. Some will question his size, but Brown plays much bigger than his frame suggests due to strong hands and a physical attitude on contact. He projects as either an inside linebacker or weak-side prospect in the NFL.

WEAKNESS: The knock on Brown is his size. He is a little less than 6’1” and weighs about 240-pounds. They say he has a tendency to take on blocks with alternating shoulders, putting him in excellent position to slip off and make tackles but also could be jeopardizing the long-term health of his body, especially considering his relative lack of size in the first place. Stands out on tape for his size, physicality and open-field tackling, but has not proven to be much of a playmaker over his career, posting "just" three interceptions and not a single forced fumble over his collegiate career. Struggles while at Miami open up concerns about how well he will handle the jump to the Ravens while stepping in for a legend in the process.

It is obvious Nolan Nowrocki did not write Brown’s weaknesses and thank God, for that but if that is the biggest weakness that can be found on him; the Ravens are in good shape. I will say this, without Brown in the second round; the Ravens would have struggled to gain a grade better than a “B” in this draft. While I like the Ravens draft as a whole, not getting a young premier linebacker in this draft when so many were available could have been catastrophic.

Brown has developed into a natural leader, who is confident in his abilities. "I come in with a strong drive. I'm a player that possesses great instincts and athletic ability. I'm a downhill, hard-nosed type player." Brown told reporters. As much as staying true to your board is a positive, this could have been a situation where it turned out to hurt the Ravens.

I agree with many that say Matt Elam had to be selected considering the lack of depth at safety in this class but consider this; while the Ravens had many holes to fill, replacing Ray Lewis, as well as Dannell Ellerbe was the main objective and I will not move from that stance.

Without Brown, or a player like Kevin Minter, or Manti Te’o in the fold, this could have been a disastrous draft, at least at the top of the board. The good news is, there would have always been next year for the great Ravens scouting department,  the bad news, without Brown, the Ravens may have been selecting a lot higher next season, as they continued to look for No.52’s replacement.

In my opinion and I may get an argument from a few people on this one but Brown has better NFL potential coming out of college than did Panthers linebacker and reigning defensive rookie of the year in the NFL, Luke Kuechly.

Drafted last season by the Panthers with their ninth pick in the first round, the former Boston College star led the league with 164 tackles during the regular season and recorded eight pass deflections, one sack, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. The next closest tacklers to Kuechly (NaVorro Bowman & Chad Greenway) had 148 takedowns.

PROJECTED ROLE IN GAME 1: Starting inside linebacker


Round 3, Pick 32 (94): Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern:

Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 335 pounds

School: Missouri Southern State

Position: Defensive tackle

Williams was best described as the best defensive lineman in the country that does not play for a major college. The Pro Football Weekly draft preview guide listed him as the second-best player in the country at his position, trailing only Ohio State product Jonathan Hankins.

Being a three time All-American is rare at any level of football but Williams was one to accomplish that feat. The Associated Press placed Williams on one of their three Little All-American teams (third in 2010, second in 2011, first in 2012) as one of the top players in Division II, III, or NAIA.

Williams showed glimpses of talent while playing every game as a true freshman for the Lions, starting three contests and making 38 tackles, three for loss and 1.5 sacks. He missed the 2009 season due to an injury, but exploded on the scene as a redshirt sophomore, earning those All-American honors and first-team All-MIAA accolades with 50 stops, 17 for loss, and nine sacks despite starting just the final seven games after starting the year coming off the bench.

He started nine of the teams 10 games in 2011, racking up 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Williams has also tipped 12 passes at the line during his first three seasons. In 2012, Williams was named the MIAA defensive player of the year with 68 tackles (16.5 for loss), 8.5 sacks, and five forced fumbles. "He's smart," Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said of Williams. "He's tough. He's a tremendous athlete. He moves well for a big man and we're excited to have him.

Williams is expected to push veteran Terrence Cody, whom the Ravens have openly expressed disappointment in and is recovering from offseason hip surgery, as well as free-agent pickup Chris Canty for the nose guard spot.

"We will have a nice little rotation at defensive tackle,” Harbaugh said. "Haloti bumps inside a little more now than he did in the past, because we added Marcus and Chris. We have really bolstered our front seven big-time.  I just think we are going to be deep. DeAngelo [Tyson] is still in the mix there. We are going to have a nice rotation upfront. It’s going to be a very formidable group up front."

The matchup’s problems he helped create also led to his being the only defensive tackle in all of college football to limit runners for negative yardage. He held opposing ball carriers to minus-58 yards during his career.

This is another player that simply put, is cut right from the Ravens mold. "There were other players we liked that we were going to take with the pick [if Williams was gone]," Newsome said. "These picks have definitely addressed our needs in the middle of the defense."

STRENGTHS

NFL.COM SAYS:  Presents a low center of gravity and strong upper body to push consistently push man-up blockers into the backfield. Gets hands on his man fast, extends his arm to get leverage and can hold his ground. Uses his hands to swim or rip past blockers into the backfield. Also wins gaps by attacking a shoulder or out-quicking his man with a first step. Moves down the line adeptly while engaged to flow with plays. Flashes the agility to jump over trash inside and move well in a stand-up rush position despite his thick lower body. Directs teammates on their responsibilities before the snap. Lines up at five-technique, nose and everywhere in-between.

NFL DRAFT SCOUT SAYS: Broad-shouldered and bulked up, especially in his upper body. Possesses the upper-body strength to shove opponents into the backfield and disrupt plays before they even have a chance to begin. Has enough short area quickness to slice through gaps. Possesses longer arms (32 3/4) than expected given his stout frame, which he uses well to keep offensive linemen off him. Strong, heavy hands. Experienced playing on the nose, defensive tackle and out wide as a five-technique defensive end and has the length and awareness to be similarly versatile in the NFL. Good recognition of screens and draws. Surprisingly light feet and balance to move laterally through the trash and shows enough phone-booth quickness to close. Good strength and aggression for the pull-down tackle. Gets his hands up in passing lanes to provide quarterbacks with narrow lanes and has good hand-eye coordination and timing to tip passes. Enjoyed an impressive week of practice at the Senior Bowl.

Of course, every player has weaknesses and one of the biggest question marks surrounding Williams is whether he will, or can adjust to the NFL from a small school.

WEAKNESSES

 NFL.COM SAYS: Does not make a lot of plays outside the box because of average effort and closing speed. Inconsistent at finding the ball, lowers his head at times trying to win gaps, allowing himself to get ridden out of plays. Slow to spin off blocks, and double-teams can move him. Must prove himself against stronger linemen, also that he has the stamina to be more than a rotational player.

NFL DRAFT SCOUT SAYS: Weaknesses: Possesses a disproportionately top-heavy build and a thinner than ideal lower body, which makes him less effective as a run-stuffing presence than he might appear "on the hoof." While active for his size, is not a quick-twitch athlete capable of providing a consistent pass rush in the NFL. Possesses only phone-booth quickness and lacks sustained speed, effort to travel far. Must do a better job of keeping his hands active, as he too often remains blocked when his initial bull rush or first step are handled. Missed the 2009 season due to injury.

RAVENS.COM SAYS: Williams has the size and athleticism to thrive in the NFL, but the jump to the AFC North from Missouri Southern State is steep. He dominated in college, but now he's going to be facing guys his own size, and will not be able to rely solely on his physical gifts to force his way into the backfield and disrupt running plays. Williams will join Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and DeAngelo Tyson in a rotation and competition in the interior of the defensive line. He'll be able to learn from the veterans, who could help him made the adjustment to the professional level.

PROJECTED WEEK 1 ROLE: In the defensive line rotation, eventually replacing Terrance Cody in the middle.

Tomorrow I will break down the following picks:

Round 4, Pick 32 (129): John Simon, DE, Ohio State
Round 4, Pick 33 (130) (Compensatory Selection): Kyle Juszczyk, FB, Harvard
Round 5, Pick 35 (168) (Compensatory Selection): Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

 

 

1 Comment:
  • OH NO
    I thought this was only rented for the eagles???

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