At the NFL's 2013 Draft, the Baltimore Ravens had some serious shoes to fill. After the announcement of Ed Reed's move to the Houston Texans, probably the number one question on fans minds was how were the Ravens ever going to find a decent replacement for one of their key players. Reed was a legend in Baltimore; a symbol for many fans and the reason behind many of those memorable defensive plays that the Ravens are known for. He left Baltimore showing his passion for the city, the team, and the fans, but nevertheless left what seemed to be a gaping hole in many hearts, especially after the Ravens also lost another of their greats, Ray Lewis, to retirement.
So for their first-round draft pick, Baltimore got right to work and scooped up safety Matt Elam from the University of Florida. Fans of college football know the Gators know how to get the job done, so fans are hoping the same in the selection of Elam. A two-year starter in Florida's secondary, Matt Elam boasted one of the best highlight reels of any prospect with strong hits and big personality on the field, a trait the Ravens are known for. Starting for his second season in 2012, Elam served up 76 total tackles, 11 of them for a loss. He also added two sacks, one forced fumble, and four interceptions to his bragging rights. A record the Ravens not only noticed, but hope he repeats, in a purple jersey this time.
But are those impressive numbers enough to measure up to Ed Reed? According to NFL analysis, Elam's strengths include blitzing or one-on-one on the edge, important qualities in a safety. At times, he flashes tremendous disruption when the play is developing in front of him. He has catch-up speed to chase down when he wants to, or maybe even grab an interception or two. He gets his hands up quickly to disrupt and distract at the catch point. Sounds pretty good to Baltimore fans. But there are also a few weaknesses analysis brings to light, like for how many hard-hitting splash plays he makes, he could be much more aggressive every down. And he tries to make the big hit far too often, and lunges or leaves his feet rather than just wrapping up. But every player, including the great Ed Reed, has both ups and downs, and the general thought is Baltimore made a smart choice in Matt Elam.
Recently, at Baltimore's rookie mini-camp, Elam was on fire; flying all over the field, showing aggression, and learning the defense quickly. Fellow players and coaches were impressed.
"He's smart," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He picked it up quickly. He jumped right back there and made calls with force; he was very forceful back there. He played fast. He looked good."
Elam has found the importance in establishing himself as a leader of the defense, barking calls for the rest of the group, much like his predecessors Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. Another reason to celebrate his arrival.
Harbaugh continued to say, "He really did a nice job of communicating in the back end, which is not usual for a rookie. Most rookie defensive backs, even all defensive players, have a tough time with the communication part of it, because they aren't confident enough to make the calls." It seems Elam's confidence is a perfect fit.
With a long road ahead till the kickoff of the 2013-2014 season, both the Ravens and Elam have a lot of work to do, even after shining during rookie camp. Baltimore players have been showing separation in their work days, so team mentality should definitely be a focus for Harbaugh and his crew. He may not be the great Ed Reed, but Matt Elam is sure to be a smart pick in the long run for the Ravens. As far as the safety position is concerned, he has what it takes to continue on Baltimore's defensive legacy. As reigning champs, the Ravens have a lot to prove, and in choosing Elam, the team hopes to continue their winning drive. Time will tell as to how the rookies and the vets strive to bring the trophy back to Baltimore...again.