OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When it finally came time for the Baltimore Ravens to make their pick in the NFL draft, the Super Bowl champions didn’t hesitate.
With the 32nd and final selection in the first round Thursday night, the Ravens snagged Florida defensive back Matt Elam.
The 21-year-old Elam, who played strong safety for the Gators, is expected to help fill the void left by the release of veteran Bernard Pollard.
“Even though it was a position of need, whether you all believe it or not, he was the highest rated player on our board,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “The thing we like about Matt is his speed. He’s probably one of the better tacklers that we’ve seen play the position, and he enjoys practice and enjoys playing the game of football.”
Coach John Harbaugh started the day thinking about how nice it would be if the Ravens got Elam, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior who played in 39 games at Florida, starting the final 26 at spring safety.
“I talked to my wife this afternoon,” Harbaugh said. “She said, `Who do you hope to get?’ It was Matt Elam. I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
Elam finished second on the team last season with 76 tackles, along with two sacks and four interceptions. His brother, Abram, played last season with the Kansas City Chiefs after stints with the Browns, Jets and Cowboys.
“We can’t wait to get him in here and get started,” Harbaugh said, adding that Elam “definitely has a chance” to start on defense at the outset of the 2013 season.
Newsome said he was willing to entertain offers for a trade at No. 32, but no one called.
“The phone did not ring,” he said. “We had gotten some calls before the draft started that someone might want to move up to our spot, but our phone did not ring while we were on the clock.”
The Ravens entered the draft looking for a safety, middle linebacker, offensive tackle and wide receiver. Baltimore had the opportunity to take highly touted linebacker Manti Te’o out of Notre Dame, but Newsome saw more potential for success in Elam.
“Matt was the higher-rated player between the two of those guys,” Newsome said.
Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said of Elam: “He can do a lot of different things. He can cover well, he’s tackles extremely well. This guy is a physical guy who can tackle. Quite honestly, just about every time he had a chance to get the guy down, he did.”
Baltimore’s scouting crew put together a tape of Elam to show Newsome, and that was enough to convince him that it would tough to pass on Elam if given the chance to pluck him off the board.
“The way he played on tape is the way you have to play in the AFC North,” Newsome concluded.
Elam, in a conference call, said, “I think I’ll bring a lot of competiveness and a lot of energy to the team.”
Baltimore entered the draft with 12 picks, including four compensatory selections that cannot be traded. By Saturday night, the Ravens intend to fill out a roster that has been depleted by retirement, free agent departures and cuts over the past couple of months.
“I think we have a lot of potential to help this team, a lot of good players at a lot of different spots,” DeCosta said.