Devin Lloyd could be the first inside linebacker selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, but he rarely watched football until he was in high school, preferring video games instead.
However, Lloyd smiled when Ray Lewis' name was mentioned Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"Ray Lewis is one of my favorite players of all time," Lloyd said. "I definitely studied his game a lot. He's an inspiration to my game."
That appreciation for Lewis will endear Lloyd to Ravens fans should he come to Baltimore in the draft. While offensive line, cornerback, and defensive line are generally considered higher priorities for the Ravens, the chance to grab Lloyd or Nakobe Dean of Georgia could be too tempting to pass up. Both talented inside linebackers were tackling machines in college who made their front seven faster and more adept at forcing turnovers – qualities the Ravens want to enhance in their defense.
Lloyd could be a triple-threat in Baltimore under new Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald as a run-stopper, pass defender and blitzer playing next to Queen. Rangy and athletic at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Lloyd filled up the stat box at Utah last year with 111 tackles, seven sacks, 22 tackles for loss and four interceptions.
The ability to cover tight ends and running backs and to capitalize on opportunities for interceptions separates Lloyd from many inside linebackers. He began his football career in high school as a wide receiver and still plays with soft hands and strong instincts in the passing game.
Lloyd has fond memories of his prep days at receiver, snagging contested catches out of the air over defenders like one of his idols, Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss.
"I just started Mossing kids and fell in love with that competitive nature of going up and getting the ball," Lloyd said. "My senior season is when I flipped the switch and said I want to play defense. Anytime the ball is the air, it's mine, I've got to catch it."
Nick Baumgardner of The Athletic has Lloyd going to the Ravens in his latest mock draft.
"Everything about Lloyd's tape screams Baltimore Ravens linebacker," Baumgardner wrote.
Dean plays with a different style than Lloyd and he's a smaller linebacker, listed at six feet, 225 pounds. But he was an integral part of Georgia's dominant defensive unit that helped the Bulldogs win a national title, and his six quarterback sacks displayed his effectiveness as a blitzer. Dean has an Alpha personality and views himself as the unquestioned leader in the middle of the defense.
Dean's face lit up when asked about the possibility of following in Lewis' footsteps in Baltimore. Lewis was also seen as undersized when entering the draft in 1996, and that caused him to slip to Baltimore in the first round.
"Of course with Ray they have a tradition of linebackers," Dean said. "Right now they have P. (Patrick) Queen. They're definitely somebody I watched and studied during my time and development becoming a linebacker."
Queen's play took a step forward last season when he moved to WILL linebacker and Josh Bynes took over as MIKE linebacker. Bynes is a pending free agent and the addition of Dean would give Baltimore another linebacker who relishes a leadership role.
"I mean, leadership doesn't have an age," Dean said. "If you're good enough you're old enough. So I feel like you just have to gain the respect of guys. You have to know your personnel because you can't treat everybody the same way as far as getting on them. So of course I have to come in and earn my respect; I don't think that I'm going to go in and be looked at as a leader. It's something I have to earn and get that trust in."
Dean believes he's the best inside linebacker in the draft. Lloyd believes that he's the best. It's a comparison that will continue and neither inside linebacker is moving to the NFL lacking confidence.
"I have so many more goals and aspirations," Lloyd said. "I'm really looking forward to the future, wherever I go."