OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Soon after the Baltimore Ravens drafted C.J. Mosley at No. 17 overall Thursday night, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta was asked what stood out about the Alabama inside linebacker.
"Very smart, relentless player, fast and always involved," he said.
Does that sound like another linebacker who roamed the Ravens' defense? The connection between Mosley and Ray Lewis is hard to deny.
Mosley is the first inside linebacker drafted by the Ravens in the first round since Lewis in 1996. He plays with that sideline-to-sideline style like Lewis. He lines up players before the snap like Lewis. Even Mosley helped write the narrative, saying his favorite linebacker growing up just happened to be No. 52.
The Ravens just don't need Mosley to be Lewis. That's an unrealistic and unfair expectation to place on any player. Lewis was one of the best linebackers in NFL history, if not the best. He's such a legendary figure in Baltimore that the Ravens are erecting a statue of him in front of M&T Bank Stadium this year. That literally casts a long shadow for Mosley walking into the stadium on game days.
"I would never want anyone, nor would C.J., to have to come in here and try to be the next Ray Lewis," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He needs to be C.J. Mosley for our football team to be successful."
Newsome is right. The Ravens won a Super Bowl without having "the next Jonathan Ogden." They lifted up the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2012 season with Bryant McKinnie, the anti-Ogden in many respects, protecting Joe Flacco's blind side.
What Mosley has to become is a difference-maker. He's got the toughness to get the Ravens back to being a top-five run defense. He's got the instincts to make the drive-stopping play in the fourth quarter, a major weakness last season. He possesses the leadership to be the face of this defense when Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are gone.
Mosley doesn't have to do a gyrating dance every time he walks on the field. He doesn't have to give passionate locker room speeches because that's not really his style. And he doesn't have to be the best defensive player in Ravens history. He just has to be a notch better than what the Ravens have brought in recently. Baltimore has done well in finding good defensive players with cornerback Jimmy Smith, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and safety Matt Elam. The difference with Mosley is he can be very good.
The Ravens wanted Mosley so bad that they passed on the draft's top safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, even though that was a bigger need. They also turned down offers to trade back because they didn't receive the "bonanza" deal that was needed to get them from picking Mosley.
"He was the best available player on our board," DeCosta said, "and he would have been the best available player on our board at [No.] 10."
Mosley has already received the approval of Lewis as well. Working as an ESPN analyst at the draft, Lewis called Mosley "a leader at the position of linebacker" and said it was a great pick in terms of “how to take this defense to the next level."
While meeting Lewis allowed Mosley to scratch it off his bucket list, he wants to create his own identity in Baltimore.
"I'm not trying to go in there and be the next 52 or anything like that," Mosley said. "I'm going in there to be C.J. Mosley and help the team win."