When Tavon Young was playing backyard football out in Oxon Hill, Maryland, he earned a nickname from his peers that perfectly encapsulated his ability to pick off passes, take them back for touchdowns and -- more notably -- deliver some cover-your-eyes hits on the playground.
"Around my neighborhood, they called me Ed Reed," Young told NFL.com this week. When asked if that meant some people were afraid of him, the Baltimore Ravens rookie laughed.
"Some people were," he said.
Fear isn't what one would normally associate with a defensive back described in NFL.com's draft profile as "teeny-tiny." At the NFL Scouting Combine, Young checked in at 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds -- the type of non-alterable traits that get some players removed from draft boards altogether. The Ravens took him in the fourth round, just four picks outside the top 100.
That decision likely had more to do with his similarities to the legendary Ravens defender who inspired his nickname than his less-than-ideal size. Young's film at Temple could serve as an instructional video on blowing up screen passes and throttling bigger receivers -- ask Will Fuller, who caught just three passes for 37 yards against Young in Notre Dame's tight win over the Owls last October. Fuller went in the first round to the Houston Texans.
Now Young finds himself in the thick of a battle that could lead to starting-caliber snaps on defense. He remembers the team's expectations being outlined as part of a pre-draft conversation with the Ravens summed up in one short sentence:
"We know you're tough, physical and you listen."
After he was drafted, Young literally hopped in a car and made the hour-long drive from Oxon Hill to the team's facility in Owings Mills, Maryland.
Welcome to the next generation of the Baltimore Ravens defense. While the team spent its first-round selection in this year's draft on much-needed offensive line help (sixth overall pick Ronnie Stanley), Rounds 2, 3 and 4 netted four defensive players, three of whom could be in the conversation for rotational jobs and potential starting spots this season. Outside of "Ed Reed" (and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, pick No. 70, who will miss the season after breaking his ankle earlier this month), there is defensive tackle "Hardcore" Willie Henry (pick No. 132) and Kamalei Correa (pick No. 42), a bruising hybrid linebacker who has already been scolded by quarterback Joe Flacco for laying a big hit on receiver Mike Wallace during a practice earlier this month.
Are we all sensing the trend here?
"The Ravens have always been known for the hard-nosed mentality that they have around here," Correa told NFL.com. "I'm just really fortunate that they've seen that in us and all the free agents that they've picked up."
Correa brushed off questions about the possibility of "toning it down" with a simple reply: "I only know how to play at one speed."
All of those players -- Reed especially -- fit a Ravens approach that some believe has been made ineffective of late because of injuries and aging personnel. With Terrell Suggs sidelined for all but one game in 2015, a defense that finished second in the NFL with 49 sacks in 2014 dipped to 17th with 37. While Elvis Dumervil suggested that he and Suggs could once again be the league's best sack tandem, many are wondering for how long. Both are still on the team's PUP list but are expected to be active for the regular-season opener. Suggs will turn 34 during the season and Dumervil's 32.
Though this draft is not an immediate passing of the torch, it represents a push by general manager Ozzie Newsome to re-patch, rebuild and sustain as soon as possible. When an executive with a pedigree as good as Newsome's makes this type of investment, chances are it will be hard to ignore in the future.
"My favorite thing to do is to go out and execute a play that we've been working on all week, and when you go out on game day and you execute it so perfectly that after it happens, when you run off to the sidelines you go straight to your coach and say, 'Hey, that's what we talked about at practice,' " Correa said.
He added: "But I like hitting the quarterback, as well. Nothing wrong with that."
"Hardcore" Henry, who got his nickname for his propensity to become a wrecking ball in the trenches, and who could slot in as a rotational defensive tackle in coordinator Dean Pees' versatile front, likes to call hitting the quarterback something different. For a 6-3 interior defensive lineman who weighs over 300 pounds, he got to the quarterback frequently in 2015. Henry racked up 6.5 sacks last year for head coach John Harbaugh's brother, Jim, at Michigan, where he might've picked up the phrases "cutting the head off the snake" and "finishing quarterbacks."
The Ravens would take that, just like they'd take any comparisons to the "Purple Pain" defenses of the last couple decades in Baltimore. All it takes is a few players to come in and start knocking people around again.