Lots of progress for Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe

Prior to the 2009 NFL draftDannell Ellerbe checked his inbox. He had an important email to read.

The Georgia linebacker had received a message from the Ravens. Specifically, it was coach John Harbaugh selling him on the Ravens in case he went undrafted.

"Coach Harbaugh said if I didn't get drafted, they would be interested," Ellerbe said. "I was like, 'That's crazy.' Then, I ended up not getting drafted."

Signed as an undrafted rookie, Ellerbe beat the odds to make the 53-man roster and wound up starting three games his rookie year, finishing with 55 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Instead of building on that encouraging start, Ellerbe regressed because of injuries and a lack of ideal conditioning. He slumped to 17 tackles last season, appearing in just nine games with three starts while dealing with a pulled hamstring. Jameel McClain emerged as the starting inside linebacker opposite inside linebacker Ray Lewis.

This year, though, Ellerbe has had a resurgent season.

In 13 games and seven starts this season, Ellerbe recorded a career-high 89 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks, emerging as a true three-down linebacker.

An unrestricted free agent after this season who figures to be fairly expensive for the Ravens to retain, Ellerbe has engineered a strong postseason with 23 tackles in three playoff victories.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound player intercepted a deflected Tom Brady pass in the AFC championship game as the Ravens defeated the New England Patriots.

None of this comes as a surprise to general manager Ozzie Newsome.

"I think with Ellerbe we saw that he could play a year ago when he got the opportunity," Newsome said. "We knew Dannell Ellerbe could play. It was just a matter of him getting on the field."