In the NFL, if speed kills, then slow leads to a fast death.
With so many offenses showing read-option looks and spread formations while becoming more pass-happy overall, inside linebackers have to be able to cover a lot of ground. Although brute force is still needed in certain situations, the days of thumpers being able to stay on the field without being exposed are dwindling.
Last year, the Ravens paid the price for not having enough athleticism on the field. Being able to defend stretch runs, iso patterns against tight ends, and mobile QBs became a major challenge.
To put everything in perspective, the margin of error for the ILBs was razor thin. Given their lack of recovery speed, if they took a false step or didn’t get enough depth in their zone drops, there were big, gaping holes over the middle. And quarterbacks exploited that area of the field.
When Dannell Ellerbe was actually on the field, he was able to alleviate some of those coverage problems. But realistically, the Ravens didn’t have a go-to guy who could cover the entire field and lend support on deeper pass patterns.
Enter Arthur Brown.
When the Ravens traded up six spots in the second round to nab the former Kansas State Wildcat, they got their chase player—and by extension, one of their biggest chess pieces. Brown is a three-down linebacker who can play in nickel and dime packages. He has great sideline-to-sideline speed to pursue ball carriers in the open field. On third down especially, when a linebacker might have to cover someone like Darren Sproles one-on-one, that type of ability cannot be underestimated.
Brown’s ability to play on third down will take a lot of pressure off the other ILBs. Jameel McClain and Rolando McClain are more of the thumper types than the fleet of foot types. Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan might have the range to hold up in coverage, but do they have the instincts? One of these players will have to make the defensive calls on third down–a major responsibility. Whether Brown garners that role is the question waiting to be answered. However, his presence will free up the “Mike” to blitz and attack the line.
The rookie will also make a significant difference in the middle of the field, where the margin of error won’t be as slim as it was a year ago. Brown has the recovery speed to make up for missteps. He also has the ability to close fast on the football, which will force QBs to be quicker with their decisions. It will be fun to watch him turn and run with athletic tight ends, and be the spy against guys like RG3 and Colin Kaepernick when the Ravens entertain these players in future seasons.
As we’ll see on display beginning with OTAs in May, Brown’s speed is exactly what the Ravens need to slow down the arms race in the NFL.