By DAVID GINSBURG, AP Sports Writer
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens got a potential starter in the middle of their defense by selecting linebacker Patrick Queen out of LSU with the 28th overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.
Queen had 85 tackles, three sacks and an interception to help the Tigers win the national championship last season. Over his three-year career he amassed 131 career tackles, including 17 1/2 for a loss and four sacks.
Queen opted to put his name into the NFL draft after his junior season. He has the potential to step in and start immediately, as evidenced by his 16 tackles in the Tigers’ two College Football Playoff games.
“He’s still very young, but he played great football,” coach John Harbaugh said of the 20-year-old. “He’s flying around in the biggest games against the best teams, making play after play. That’s what I saw, and that’s what matters to me.”
Queen is poised to play the same position that Ray Lewis manned for 17 seasons during a Hall of Fame career.
“He really is legit,” Harbaugh said. “His best football is in front of him, and he’s got some really good tape behind him.”
Baltimore had a difficult time filling the middle linebacker spot after C.J. Mosley left to the Jets as a free agent following the 2018 season. Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes were adequate, but both players departed during the offseason as free agents.
“This guy just really fits us,” second-year general manager Eric DeCosta said of Queen. “In this case, what was great about Patrick was, not only was he a need, but he was also very much the very best player on the board at that time for us. When that happens, it’s a great win for the organization.”
The 6-foot, 229 pound Queen joins a defense that last year was overshadowed by a powerful offense that averaged 33.2 points per game.
DeCosta focused heavily on improving the defense during free agency, shoring up the line by obtaining tackle Calais Campbell in a trade with Jacksonville and signing former Broncos end Derek Wolfe to a one-year contract.
Those moves were made after Baltimore allowed a franchise-record 4.4 yards per rush in the regular season and allowed Derrick Henry to ramble for 195 yards in Tennessee’s 28-12 upset victory over the Ravens in the playoffs.
In another nod to the defense, DeCosta placed the franchise tag on outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who led the team with 9 1/2 sacks.
DeCosta hopes to address several other deficiencies during the 25th draft in Ravens history. He got the ball rolling by taking Queen, and has two more days to add to the list. Baltimore has four picks on Friday during the second and third rounds — Nos. 55. 60, 92 and 106.
“It’s wide open,” DeCosta said. “We see great potential to improve the team.”
Baltimore went 14-2 last year and entered the postseason riding a 12-game winning streak behind the play of multi-faceted quarterback Lamar Jackson, selected in the first round of the 2018 draft. Jackson ran for 1,206 yards, a single-season NFL record for a quarterback, and threw 36 touchdown passes for the highest scoring offense in the league.
But the Ravens sputtered against the Titans in the playoffs, and the retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda created a hole that must be filled. DeCosta is also looking for a deep threat to complement Marquise Brown, who caught seven touchdown passes after being drafted 25th overall in 2019.
“Hopefully, we can build our offense to the point where (it is) undefendable,” DeCosta said before the draft.
In preparing for the first virtual draft in NFL history, DeCosta was confident that the Ravens would be able to conduct business as usual.
And that’s how it turned out — even though DeCosta, Harbaugh and director of player personnel Joe Hortiz all operated from their own homes.
“Not being with these guys on such a special night is a different experience, but we’re together, sort of, virtually,” DeCosta said.