The Ravens' top two picks in the 2013 draft are different in some respects.
Matt Elam played safety in the Southeastern Conference. Arthur Brown played linebacker in the Big 12.
Elam is from Florida, Brown from Kansas.
But they're much more alike than different, and I'm not talking about the fact that both are fast, innate playmakers. I'm talking about the fact that both were captains of their college teams, exhibiting strong leadership skills. I'm talking about the fact that both are mature guys who can control a locker room.
The Ravens went with a theme with these two selections. They didn't just add a couple of pieces of their puzzle. They added guys who might turn out to form the foundation of their defensive unit in the long run.
The symmetry is too delicious to ignore, too perfect to deny. Months after the departures of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, their replacements have arrived on back-to-back nights in the draft, first Elam, then Brown.
Of course, it's completely unfair to expect them to replicate what Lewis and Reed achieved on the field; you can't put that kind of pressure on young guys, no matter how accomplished they were as college players. But make no mistake, these are the guys the franchise is expecting to step into those famous shoes, one roaming the back end of the defense, the other filling the middle.
It's called evolution and it's happening now, in real time, right before your eyes. Say hello to the new generation of defense in Baltimore. Not a moment too soon, I might add.
Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome actually called this shot months ago, telling reporters he hoped to use this draft to rebuild the middle of the defense, the guts, which sagged at times in 2012 even as the Ravens were winning the Super Bowl.
They bolstered the line during free agency but still needed to address the inside linebackers and the secondary. Thursday night's selection of Elam was step one, and the Ravens clearly had their eyes on Brown as step two when the second round began Friday night. A handful of experts predicted they wanted him and DeCosta conceded after the selection that Brown "was a player we coveted."
In fact, they coveted him so much that they started sweating when good players started coming off the board in the middle of the second round, leaving Brown as one of the best talents still available, about to be plucked. They struck boldly, dealing a pair of draft picks to Seattle to move up six slots and grab Brown before someone else did.
It was the kind of aggressively confident move you would want your team to make, targeting a player and then going and getting him.
The Ravens had earmarked Brown as what they call a "red star" player, one that all of their scouts agree exhibits all of the qualities they really like, starting with strong character. They didn't want him to get away. Marshal Yanda, Ben Grubbs, Ray Rice, Paul Kruger and Yamon Figurs are other players they have tagged over the years as red-star selections. You get the picture.
It's hard to get more from the 56th-overall selection than the Ravens expect to get from Brown. He makes their defense faster and much more athletic. He can cover tight ends and running backs over the middle, a problem spot in 2012.
And while in the short run the Ravens are counting on veteran Jameel McClain, highly respected in the locker room, to step into the leadership void created by the departures of Lewis and Reed, Brown could be the one filling that role in the long run if he develops as they expect.
Asked what these top two picks might bring to a defense in transition, DeCosta called them "stabilizing factors," a term that, let's face it, is seldom applied to draft picks. The Ravens added another piece for the middle of the unit later Friday, taking 335-pound defensive tackle Brandon Williams in the third round. As usual, the Ravens had a plan, addressing not only their short-term positional shortcomings but also the long-term balance and architecture of their defense. It's pretty impressive.