The word apparently is getting out on Dannell Ellerbe.
Ellerbe, who filled in so well after injuries to Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain, is due to become a free agent next month, and NFL.com columnist Adam Schein lists Ellerbe as one of his nine most underrated free agents this spring.
Schein lists Ellerbe at No. 6, with former Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney and former Lions and Colts backup quarterback Drew Stanton topping the list.
Of Ellerbe, Schein writes, "The Baltimore Ravens know how good he is and how good he can be. During the regular season, I thought he played better than Ray Lewis, making him more than ready to replace Lewis full-time as a player on game day. But Baltimore certainly has bigger free-agent fish to fry in Joe Flacco and (potentially) Ed Reed.
If Ellerbe hits the open market, scoop up the inside 'backer -- fast. He's only scratched the surface."
Lost in the hoopla of Ray Lewis' 'last ride' was this: When Ellerbe was healthy -- which, as with the rest of the Ravens' defense, wasn't always the case -- he was the best defender on the field.
Ellerbe finished the season with 89 tackles, second on the team behind Pollard, and 4.5 sacks. Battling through a painful bulging disk in his back, Ellerbe had an interception in the AFC Championship Game, and totaled 32 tackles in the playoffs, including a team-high nine in the Super Bowl. His biggest play in that game might have come on the 49ers final drive, when he broke off a block and chased down Frank Gore, who was forced out at the 7-yard line. The 49ers, of course, then failed to score on four plays from the 7. On the last play, it was pressure from Ellerbe that forced Colin Kaepernick to rush a pass that fell incomplete.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has said the Ravens need to get better in the middle of the defense, and re-signing Ellerbe could go a long way toward doing that. Ellerbe, 27, who just completed his fourth season, had never been a full-time starter before this season. Have the Ravens seen enough of him to warrant a long-term deal for the former undrafted free agent?
Ellerbe, by the way, does not show up on CBS Sports' list of the top 100 free agents, perhaps lending credence to the notion that he is underrated. The CBS list is topped by Joe Flacco at No. 1, and linebacker Paul Kruger cracks the list at No. 7 (everyone loves free agent outside linebackers). Other Ravens on the list include cornerback Cary Williams at No. 57, safety Ed Reed at No. 68 and tackle Bryant McKinnie at No. 88.