The Ravens lost fifth-round outside linebacker Pernell McPhee in free agency this offseason. They drafted his replacement in the fourth round a couple months later.
Baltimore grabbed pass rusher and physical run-stuffing outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith with their first fourth-round pick (No. 122 overall).
When Smith came to Baltimore for a visit, Smith said McPhee was "all they talked about." Smith watched McPhee while in college.
"I really think I can follow his footsteps and become more like him," Smith said. "He just signed a new contract and this team right here is replacing him with a guy like Pernell McPhee. I can tell you this man, a lot of people are going to be hearing from Za'Darius Smith as a Baltimore Raven.
"I can tell you this, I'm going to follow in his footsteps. I'm going to do the best thing and be the best pass rusher and best run stopper I can."
Head Coach John Harbaugh said McPhee was the first thing he thought of when meeting Smith.
"He's got the same hair, he's close to the same number," Harbaugh said with a laugh. "The physicality, the heavy hands, the high motor. He's got pass-rush ability – even maybe more than we saw from Pernell coming out – he's got hips and gets around blocks.
"If he develops like Pernell, we're really going to have something. He's a great young man. He's a very hard worker and he plays really hard, so those were all characteristics Pernell had as well."
Smith is a massive 6-foot-6, 263 pounds. He registered 120 tackles and 10.5 sacks in his two seasons after transferring from East Mississippi Community College.
Smith played a lot of defensive end in college, and there are concerns about how well he can transition to a 3-4 defense, but the Ravens have heard that story before.
There were similar concerns with McPhee when he came out of Mississippi State in 2011. The Ravens worked with McPhee and he became a major pass-rush and hard-nosed, gritty player in their defense.
Smith is a heavy-handed defender in the trenches. He's strong at the point of attack and will do the dirty work. He's a high-character player who plays with an extremely high motor.
He played in a 3-4 defense in junior college but switched to a 4-3 at Kentucky. Smith says he's comfortable in both schemes, and proved that with strong showings at the East-West Shrine Game, where he was named the defensive MVP.
"Those bowl games helped me a lot, man," Smith said.
"I had a big chance that I would land there, just because of the visit I took, man. Everybody felt comfortable with me and just being there I felt so comfortable. It felt like home. So I knew then that I would expect a phone call from the Baltimore Ravens."
Smith got a late start in football, and has room to grow as he further learns the game. He was a basketball player until his senior year of high school.
"I had like eight, nine sacks," Smith said. "From there, I said, 'This is the game I want to play, man. I can see a future in this game.' From there, I took it to junior college, and, hey, look where I am now."
The Ravens have their starting outside linebackers with Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw. Smith should be able to step in behind those players, and could take over as a starter down the road.