The Ravens have engineered their share of surprises in recent years on the first night of the draft, either trading up or trading down before making a selection. But there were no surprises this year.
When it was their turn to make a pick at the end of the first round, a player they really liked was still available – Florida safety Matt Elam. He’s close to a sure thing, a speedy, hard-hitting, play-making defensive back. He was coached as a freshman by Teryl Austin, the Ravens’ defensive backs coach. They know what they’re getting. They love what they’re getting. Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said it has been awhile since he enjoyed watching a player on tape so much.
The Ravens didn’t hesitate. They made the pick. They love the pick. It isn’t a reach. It fills a need. What’s not to love? Drafting relatively low, at the end of the first round, they grabbed a battle-tested, big-time college player who could start right away and almost surely will become a piece of their long-term puzzle. He flies to the ball. He hits hard. His only drawback is that he’s a little small, which probably caused him to fall to the bottom of the first round. But the Ravens don’t seem to care.
If there was anything surprising about what they did Thursday night, it’s that they selected Elam over ballyhooed Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, a player who had been linked to them in numerous mock drafts. He was also available when they picked, it turned out, and he also filled a need at inside linebacker, but the Ravens went with Elam instead.
On what did they base their decision? “He was the higher-rated player between those two” on their board, Newsome said. He also plays a position that is only gaining in importance in an increasingly pass-happy league.
It’s not surprising, really. When in doubt these days, you’re never wrong to take someone who can defend the pass.
But after going with a rock-solid pick and avoiding raising eyebrows Thursday night, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Ravens engineer a surprise Friday night and make a trade to move up as the second and third rounds of the draft unfold.
Asked late Thursday night to assess what would be available Friday, Ravens Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said there were “probably 20 players, 30 players that we’d love to get at the end of the second round.” That could pose a problem for the Ravens, who currently have the night’s 32nd pick – the last selection in the second round. They would need to move up to get one of those 20 or 30 players DeCosta referenced.
For the record, plenty of linebackers are still available, from Te’o to LSU’s Kevin Minter to Kansas State’s Arthur Brown – all players linked to the Ravens during the mock-draft season. With 11 picks left in their 2013 arsenal, including seven that can be dealt, the Ravens are perfectly positioned to make a deal, move up and grab one of those players or another who fills a need.
Whether they can find the right trade partner remains to be seen, of course. Newsome said he made plenty of calls Thursday night, exploring the possibility of moving up in the first round, but his phone stopped ringing when the Ravens were “on the clock,” seemingly because everyone knew they were going to take Elam.
Sometimes you find a trade partner, sometimes you don’t.
Either way, you can be sure the Ravens will be exploring all possibilities again Friday, and one way or another, will come away with several more players. They’re still looking for offensive linemen and a wide receiver as well as an inside linebacker.
It’s hard to argue with what they accomplished Thursday night, checking a major item off their to-do list. But they aren’t done.