General manager Ozzie Newsome said last week that there were so many good safeties in the draft that there would be one who the Ravens could take in all seven rounds.
However, the Ravens showed on the first night of the 2013 NFL draft just how much adding to the position was a priority as they used the 32nd and final pick of the first round on Matt Elam, a hard-hitting and playmaking safety out of the University of Florida.
“Even though he was a position of need, believe it or not, he was the highest-rated player on our board,” said Newsome, who acknowledged that the Ravens considered moving back in the draft but they never got any calls while they were on the clock. “The thing that I think we all like about Matt is his speed. He's probably one of the better tacklers that we've seen play the position.”
Elam had 76 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks in his junior season for the Gators. Opting to forgo his senior season, Elam was considered by most draft pundits as the second-best safety in the draft behind the University of Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, who went 15th overall to the New Orleans Saints.
His selection, which came with Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o still on the board, marks just the second time in franchise history the Ravens used a first-round pick on a safety. The other was in 2002, when the Ravens took Ed Reed with the 24th overall pick.
“He's just an infectious kid on the playing field: tough, aggressive, he can play in the slot, he's a great special teams guy,” said Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta. “We're excited to have him on the team.”
He certainly fills a need. Reed, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, played 11 seasons for the Ravens before signing as a free agent with the Houston Texans this offseason. The Ravens also released Bernard Pollard, leaving the reigning Super Bowl champions without their two starting safeties from last season.
The Ravens did sign former Oakland Raiders first-round pick Michael Huff and re-sign valuable reserve safety and special teams standout James Ihedigbo. However, Elam is expected to come in and immediately be given the opportunity to start. Aside from Huff and Ihedigbo, none of the other safeties on the Ravens' roster have starting experience.
“I think I'll bring a lot of competitiveness, a lot of energy to a great defense,” Elam said. “I'm so excited to have the opportunity to come in with a great player like Ed Reed that was back there before.”
Elam, the brother of longtime NFL defensive back Abram Elam, started 26 games the past two seasons for Florida and in his three-year college career, he made 176 total tackles, including 231/2 for losses, six interceptions, five sacks and three forced fumbles.
He is 5 feet 10, which is less than ideal size for an NFL safety and makes him vulnerable at times in coverage. His height is one of the reasons that most draft pundits projected that Elam would go in the second round.
“I just feel like my size doesn't matter,” Elam said. “I'm a great competitor, flying around. I'm hitting guys bigger than me. Size really doesn't matter. I feel like you turn on the film and it shows it all.”
However, talent evaluators love his instincts and anticipation skills and think he'll continue to be a playmaker on the NFL level.
“I started to watch Matt [on tape] and I've never been so excited,” Newsome said. “It was fun watching him play. Play after play, you just go, ‘Wow.' The way he played on tape is the way you have to play in the AFC North.”
With Elam now having been added, the Ravens' biggest needs are at left tackle, wide receiver and middle linebacker. They also are interested in adding to their depth along the defensive line and cornerback in the three-day draft.
They still have 11 more picks remaining in the draft, which continues today.
The second and third rounds of the draft will be tonight, starting at 6:30. Rounds four through seven will then take place Saturday, starting at noon. The Ravens have one pick in each of the second and third rounds. They then have two picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds and three picks in the sixth round.