Written by BSR Contributor: Judd Bleser.
The last time the Baltimore Ravens drafted a safety late in the first round, well, let’s just say things turned out alright: a young man by the name of Edward Earl Reed Jr. out of the University of Miami stepped right in and took both the Ravens and the NFL by storm.
Eleven seasons, sixty-one interceptions, and one Super Bowl victory later, Reed chose to move on to Houston and play for the Texans, leaving a sizeable leadership and playmaking void in his wake. Fortunately for the Ravens, the group of safeties in this year’s draft was one of the strongest in recent memory, allowing them to take Matt Elam with the 32nd pick to close out the first round.
The former Florida Gator has made his presence felt throughout camp and the first few preseason games, flashing signs of elite instincts and the ability to lay the wood on anyone coming across the middle. He’s still a bit raw, like any rookie, but his potential to impact this defense is undeniable. The obvious yet pertinent question is this: just how much we can expect from him this season?
An important consideration is the presence of James Ihedigbo. The six-year veteran is currently competing for the starting strong safety spot with Elam. Some may call Ihedigbo a journeyman, and he’s certainly not a household name, but the fact of the matter is that he has experience and has played on big stages: people may not realize, but he started 12 games—including the Super Bowl—for the Patriots in 2011.
Obviously, the secondary was not a strong suit for the Patriots that year, but the experience factor is huge. With the Ravens defense experiencing a lot of turnover, it’s important to have veteran presence. For that reason, I think Ihedigbo will enter the season as the starting strong safety. Key word: enter.
With the pass rush upgrades up front taking some pressure off of the secondary, the Ravens can afford to play it safe back there with Ihedigbo while Elam is groomed into the position. Talent has a funny way of finding its way onto the field, though, and for that reason I see Elam playing his way into the starting role five or six weeks into the season.
With free safety and former All-Pro Michael Huff —who, by the way, knows what it’s like to replace a future Hall-of-Famer in Charles Woodson —patrolling centerfield, Elam will be able to roam in the box and play freely.
Expect big plays from number 26. He’s always around the ball, which, regardless of position, is the common denominator for someone who causes turnovers. He may be a bit undersized for a prototype at his position, but that doesn’t concern me.
After all, the aforementioned safety the Ravens took in 2002 slipped to the 24th pick because of similar reasons. I think he turned out just fine.
Follow Judd on Twitter @TheInternsTake.