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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Cornerbacks

Posted on 09 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in a little over two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

We’ll start at cornerback, which is the deepest and most talented position group on the entire roster. Over the last five years, the Ravens have handed out a few sizable contracts at this position and used meaningful draft capital by selecting a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier in five consecutive drafts. In other words, we’ve seen quite a shift from the days of Baltimore needing to sign street free agents such as Rashaan Melvin and Shareece Wright to immediately fill prominent roles because of poor depth.

The abundance of talent includes multiple options to play the slot or outside and allows defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to rotate his cornerbacks much like you typically see with defensive linemen and pass rushers. Despite dealing with no long-term injuries at the position last season, the Ravens had four starting-caliber corners play over 600 snaps, but none took more than 876. It’s the kind of rotation that help keeps everyone fresh and opposing offenses guessing.

That’s a luxury few teams enjoy in today’s pass-crazy NFL, but secondary depth has become more important than ever with the Ravens defense using five or more defensive backs 83 percent of the time last season. Simply put, the nickel has really become their base defense rather than the traditional front seven.

Below is a look at several cornerbacks who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Marlon Humphrey
Skinny: Having just turned 23, the former first-round pick was voted team MVP by the local media last year and appears on the cusp of Pro Bowl stardom entering his third season, evident by Pro Football Focus naming him one of the NFL’s top 25 players under age 25 this offseason. He ranked third in the NFL in forced incompletion percentage and graded seventh among qualified cornerbacks in coverage, according to PFF. If he stays healthy, Humphrey could be one of the NFL’s best for years to come.

Old Reliable — Brandon Carr
Skinny: If his remarkable streak of never missing a game — while starting each one — in his first 11 seasons weren’t enough, the 33-year-old registered the eighth-lowest passer rating allowed in the NFL and was one of only three cornerbacks playing at least 500 coverage snaps not to surrender a touchdown in 2018, per PFF. Carr also filled in capably as a slot corner at times despite rarely playing there over the course of his career. The veteran isn’t a star, but he oozes dependability, an underrated trait in the NFL.

Under Fire — Jimmy Smith
Skinny: Many wondered if Smith would be back as he sports the second-highest salary cap number and 18th-highest cash payout among NFL cornerbacks in 2019, but Baltimore continues to bet on the upside of the 2011 first-round pick who’s played more than 12 games in the regular season only twice in his career due to injuries or suspensions. We’ve seen Smith, who turns 31 later this month, play at a superb level when right physically, but he needs a healthy and productive campaign with free agency looming.

Up-and-Comer — Anthony Averett
Skinny: The 2019 fourth-round pick from Alabama saw only 71 defensive snaps as a rookie, but most of that action came in the Week 14 loss at Kansas City, which was an impressive showing for the 24-year-old against an explosive offense. With Smith in the final year of his contract and Carr entering his 12th season, Averett is a candidate to step into a starting role as early as next season, but he’ll be asked to be a versatile game-day reserve capable of playing outside and inside in the meantime.

Sleeper — Terrell Bonds
Skinny: Formerly of the Memphis Express in the defunct Alliance of American Football, Bonds signed only after trying out during rookie camp and is a long shot to crack the 53-man roster in this deep group of cornerbacks. However, the 5-foot-8, 182-pound slot corner from Tennessee State was solid in the spring and intercepted Lamar Jackson twice in the same red-zone period during last month’s minicamp, which garnered plenty of attention. He’ll be fighting for a job in Baltimore or elsewhere this summer.

The Rest — Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Iman Marshall, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady, Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Skinny: Young’s three-year, $25.8 million contract extension reflects how highly the Ravens think of the slot corner, but the deal was panned elsewhere as a market setter for a relatively unproven player and others noted most of his success dating back to college has come as an outside corner. Agree or not, Baltimore sees a higher ceiling for the 25-year-old that will need to be reached. … The 29-year-old Bethel will really have to shine on special teams to justify the Ravens guaranteeing him $1 million despite the deep depth that was already in place at the position. … Jones, a Gilman School product, provided a spark as a punt returner down the stretch last season, but he may need to expand his return duties to kickoffs as well to secure his roster spot for 2019. … Canady has been a productive slot option in the past, but his injury history and expiring rookie contract are working against his roster chances.

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ota2

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following first week of OTAs

Posted on 24 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ first week of organized team activities in the books, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Making any bold proclamations after one spring practice is irresponsible, but Lamar Jackson showed more oomph with his intermediate passes, especially early in the session. His consistency waned over the final 45 minutes, however, with a few too many inaccurate and wobbly throws. Remember he’s also learning a revamped offense.

2. Being cautious with Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) is the obvious right call, but they can’t have too many reps with Jackson if they’re to make a meaningful impact as rookies. As we saw with Breshad Perriman, injuries can quickly torpedo expectations for a young wide receiver.

3. The competition at outside linebacker will receive more attention, but the likes of Willie Henry, Zach Sieler, and Pernell McPhee serving as viable interior rushers will be nearly as critical. Sieler is one to watch after he stuck on the 53-man roster all last season despite being active only twice.

4. Many seemed ready to write off Tyus Bowser or suggest he move to inside linebacker after the McPhee and Shane Ray signings, but the shortage of “Sam” outside linebackers capable of dropping into coverage keeps him in good position from a roster standpoint. The pressure is still on, of course.

5. While Kenneth Dixon skipped Thursday’s OTA, Gus Edwards and De’Lance Turner appeared to be in great shape as both looked leaner. It’s been mentioned before, but Turner was promoted to the 53-man roster a full month before Edwards was elevated last year.

6. Several defensive veterans exercised their right to not attend the voluntary workout, but Brandon Carr was present and working just days after his 33rd birthday. Father Time will eventually catch up, but his rock-solid play and understated leadership have made his 2017 signing a very good one.

7. New wide receivers coach and passing coordinator David Culley has immediately become one of John Harbaugh’s most vocal assistants as you hear him offering praise or blunt criticism for Ravens wide receivers. It’s quite a contrast from the quieter Bobby Engram, who is now coaching the tight ends.

8. Asked about his 2019 goals, Marlon Humphrey said he’s interested in “anything that ends with a ‘Bowl.’ It might be a stretch to envision this team in transition winning the Super Bowl this year, but I’m expecting Humphrey to make his first Pro Bowl as long as he stays healthy.

9. Jaylen Smith and Joe Horn Jr. have received attention as undrafted rookie receivers for obvious reasons, but 6-foot-4 Texas Tech product Antoine Wesley flashed multiple times Thursday, including when he caught a long bomb from Robert Griffin III. He lacks great speed, but you like the height.

10. That praise aside, please spare me the narrative of there being so much competition at wide receiver for one year, especially with an offense that so highly values the running game and tight ends. I’ve heard it — and sometimes fallen for it — too many times in the past.

11. Reports have linked six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to the Ravens, but it’s tough seeing a financial fit if he’s receiving offers as high as $11 million per year from interested teams. The 31-year-old has collected five or more sacks in seven straight seasons, however.

12. I don’t want to make too much out of it, but Jackson saying he came into the spring not knowing the Ravens would have “a totally different offense” was odd after rebuilding the system “from the ground up” was such a strong talking point this offseason.

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Ravens defense begins OTAs sporting different look

Posted on 23 May 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ first open organized team activity didn’t offer a great look at a defense that’s undergone substantial change this offseason.

As if the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Za’Darius Smith, and Brent Urban weren’t enough, six other notable defensive players weren’t participating in Thursday’s voluntary workout, leaving only a few established veterans, role players, and unproven young talents on the practice field. The list of absentees was headlined by six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, the blockbuster free-agent acquisition handpicked to help fill voids in leadership and play-making ability. Other defensive players not taking part were cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and safety Tony Jefferson, who is still working his way back to full strength from offseason ankle surgery and was a sideline observer.

Though led by one of the NFL’s best and deepest secondaries, the Ravens defense faces major questions at the inside and outside linebacker positions ahead of the 2019 season

“There are a lot of stories you’ve seen about new faces on the Ravens, but you guys see a lot of new faces and I see a lot of new opportunities,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “A lot of guys, especially in my [2017] draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles — including myself — so I look forward to that as an opportunity and for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves and to become those household names.”

As expected, Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were lining up as the starting inside linebackers after sharing time at the weak-side inside backer spot next to Mosley last year, but trying to project the starting outside linebacker opposite Judon is anyone’s guess after Suggs manned the spot for the last 15 years. The Ravens hope some combination of third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams will emerge, but the low-risk signings of Pernell McPhee, 30, and Shane Ray, 26 last week delivered the message that young players won’t be handed snaps without first earning them.

McPhee, who played for the Ravens from 2011-14, and Ray combined for only one sack with their former teams last season, but they rank first and third, respectively, among current Baltimore players in career sacks, illustrating the lack of established edge rushers on the roster.

“That certainly made it more interesting over there, and those two guys are both in really good shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They both came in, and obviously, they were preparing and training for when their opportunity would come. You get in a situation like that, and you don’t always know when it’s going to come and not everybody does a good job of that. They did a good job of that. They were out there today. You saw them competing, so they looked good.”

Absences on the offensive side of the ball were more related to health as rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) only observed and guard Alex Lewis continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Right guard Marshal Yanda was not present, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has skipped voluntary OTAs in the past.

The most interesting absence Thursday was running back Kenneth Dixon, who likely stands fourth in his position’s hierarchy behind free-agent addition and two-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Ingram, 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards, and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill. Despite averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per carry upon returning from a knee injury late last season, Dixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a variable that often leaves a player’s job security vulnerable when competing at a deep position. His history of injuries and drug-related suspensions also works against him.

“He was here the last few days,” Harbaugh said. “Where was he today? I don’t know. They don’t have to tell us. There’s no rule.”

Cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones and rookie defensive tackle Gerald Willis were also absent, but Willis did sustain an apparent leg injury during rookie camp earlier this month.

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alexlewis

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Ravens finished with fewest adjusted games lost in 2018

Posted on 14 May 2019 by Luke Jones

While Lamar Jackson and a top-ranked defense received much of the credit for a return to the playoffs after a three-year absence last season, the Ravens enjoying their best health in years certainly didn’t hurt.

Finishing 2018 with only seven players on injured reserve, it’s no secret Baltimore avoided major injuries on its way to the AFC North championship. According to at least one metric, however, John Harbaugh’s team was the healthiest in the NFL after being one of the teams most impacted by injuries in 2017.

You often see the number of players on injured reserve cited in these types of discussions, but that alone doesn’t really offer the most insightful picture from team to team. How many on IR were starters compared to rotation players, special-teams contributors, or merely training camp bodies who had no chance of making the roster before getting hurt? How many on each team went to IR in September as opposed to the final weeks of the regular season? What about teams that had more players pushing through injuries than those having relatively clean injury reports most weeks?

Football Outsiders uses a metric called adjusted games lost to attempt to quantify just how much teams were stricken with injuries. Instead of simply counting the number of games lost for each player on IR, the metric weighs the projected role of each injured player (starter, key reserve, bench-warmer, etc.) and also considers those listed on weekly injury reports who ended up playing at less than 100 percent. In other words, the metric doesn’t treat the absence of a Pro Bowl player or starter the same as a developmental player essentially being stashed on IR and doesn’t ignore players competing with ailments that could limit performance levels.

The Ravens finished with the fewest adjusted games lost in 2018 (29.7) and their lowest total since 2011 when they finished 12-4 and advanced to the AFC championship game. While running back Alex Collins and defensive tackle Willie Henry were the most notable Baltimore players finishing the season on IR, offensive linemen Alex Lewis (6.9) and James Hurst (6.3), quarterback Joe Flacco (4.0), and defensive backs Marlon Humphrey (2.9) and Tony Jefferson (2.9) also counted in the total calculation.

Six of the 10 teams with the fewest adjusted games lost made the postseason while just three of the 12 teams with the most adjusted games lost qualified, reinforcing how critical health is to success. “Next man up” is a popular rallying cry and a nice slogan for a t-shirt, but there are only so many injuries most teams can survive before chances for success are crippled.

“Everything transfers to the field. I heard somebody once say they don’t want the credit when things go right, and they don’t want the blame when things go wrong,” strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders said last month. “Certainly, there is always some luck involved with injuries, but I think our guys prepare and train really hard, probably harder than anybody. I think it’s definitely a positive factor. We just want to keep building on that each season.”

Below is a look at where the Ravens have finished in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost in recent years:

2018 – 29.7 (fewest in NFL)
2017 – 101.6 (sixth most in NFL)
2016 – 62.0 (11th fewest in NFL)
2015 – 96.1 (third most in NFL)
2014 – 52.6 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2013 – 49.8 (ninth fewest in NFL)
2012 – 57.4 (13th fewest in NFL)
2011 – 18.8 (fewest in NFL)
2010 – 50.9 (15th fewest in NFL)
2009 – 28.8 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2008 – 95.0 (third most in NFL)

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Ravens defense looking like good case study for coverage-pressure debate

Posted on 13 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With veteran pass rusher and free-agent target Ezekiel Ansah joining Seattle last week, the Ravens defense faces a likely reality with organized team activities set to begin next week.

Barring something completely unforeseen, general manager Eric DeCosta probably isn’t upgrading the current group of pass rushers to a substantial degree. That’s not to say a veteran won’t still be added to the mix as former Los Angeles Ram Matt Longacre reportedly visited the Ravens Monday, but the quality of edge defenders still on the market isn’t dramatically different from the in-house options behind veteran Matt Judon that include third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 Day 2 picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams.

It’s not as though DeCosta hasn’t tried to add a veteran pass rusher after the departures of 2018 sacks leader Za’Darius Smith and the franchise’s all-time sacks leader in Terrell Suggs, but the short-term contracts given to Ansah and Justin Houston — who signed with Indianapolis — were a bit rich for a team trying to maintain an optimal salary-cap situation for 2020 and beyond. Few would argue with the decisions not to pay Smith and Suggs what they ultimately received from their new teams, but the defense is still losing just over 40 percent of its sack production from last year when you include the two combined sacks from fellow departures C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Brent Urban.

Of course, DeCosta hasn’t just stood pat defensively after losing those key players as his first major free-agent signing as general manager was six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas to a four-year, $55 million contract. Injuries limited the 30-year-old to just 29 games in his final three seasons with the Seahawks, but Thomas represents a substantial upgrade — at least on paper — from the 34-year-old Weddle, who was using his intellect to overcome his physical limitations more than ever last season.

That upgrade to a secondary already viewed as one of the NFL’s best and the current concerns about the pass rush spark a fascinating question, one the football analytics community has debated at length in recent years.

Which is more valuable: coverage or pass rush?

The phrase “you win in the trenches” being drilled into ours heads for decades may have you laughing at the very notion of pass coverage being more important than pressure, but that’s a growing stance in today’s pass-happy NFL in which quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball more quickly and teams are using more play-action calls to neutralize defensive fronts. To be clear, pressure remains very important as the two feed off each other — you want both in a perfect world — but an edge rusher getting stonewalled by an offensive tackle typically brings less potential consequence than a defensive back faltering for even a fraction of a second in coverage on a given pass play.

Asked about which was more precious earlier this offseason, head coach John Harbaugh offered an answer seemingly agreeing with the analytics community’s position of coverage being more valuable than pass rush. It reflects Baltimore’s greatest defensive strength going into OTAs.

“I think coverage in the back end because I think you can create pressure,” Harbaugh said at the league meetings in March. “Pressure breaks pipes. You don’t have to be a one-dimensional, one pass-rush type guy. But the more good pass rushers you put into a pressure scheme, obviously, the better off you’re going to be. And you have more options. You can rush four, you can rush three. You can rush different people.

“I do believe you have to cover people in this league, but I can go the other way if you really squeeze me on it. But I don’t like not being able to cover people in all honesty. Maybe that’s just my own bias — I played defensive back a little, coached it. I really do believe you have to be able to cover people.”

It’s not as though the Ravens don’t desire good pass rushers, but they’ve made quality and depth in the secondary a priority over these last few years. After enduring draft disappointments Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks and underwhelming “value” signings in the three seasons following Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore has awarded big contracts to safeties in three of the last four offseasons. Last month also marked the fifth consecutive year in which the Ravens drafted a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier, creating a talent pipeline to avoid a repeat of 2014 when street free agent Rashaan Melvin was starting playoff games due to the lack of secondary depth entering that campaign. The recent investment of draft capital in cornerbacks coincided with signing veteran Brandon Carr to a four-year, $24 million contract two years ago and making Tavon Young the highest-paid slot cornerback in the NFL in February.

Perhaps the best indication of their current philosophy is the Ravens retaining cornerback Jimmy Smith despite having two other starting-caliber — and cheaper — cornerbacks in Marlon Humphrey and Carr and talented young options behind them. Smith will turn 31 in July and carries the highest 2019 cap number on the team at $15.85 million, which led many to view him as a likely cap casualty this offseason. Injuries and suspensions have limited him to 12 or fewer games in six of his eight NFL seasons and he was coming off an uneven 2018, but Baltimore has expressed little apparent interest in compromising its deep depth in the secondary, even if the $9.5 million saved by releasing Smith could have helped land a free-agent pass rusher like Houston or Ansah.

It remains to be seen how the pass rush fares without Za’Darius Smith and Suggs, whose combined 150 career sacks are more than twice as many as the 64 career takedowns produced by the entire current roster. Does a secondary potentially better than last year force opposing quarterbacks to hold the ball longer to create more pressure and sack opportunities for young rushers? Does the potential lack of pressure from inexperienced edge defenders cause more coverage breakdowns than we witnessed last year? Or, as Harbaugh suggested, are the Ravens confident in their ability to scheme pressure — as defensive coordinator Wink Martindale did last year — as long as the secondary performs at a high level?

The Ravens are pretty clearly betting on the coverage side of the give-take relationship, which should provide an interesting case study in the overall debate. Baltimore is depending on that philosophy minimizing what some fear could be a substantial drop-off on the defensive side of the ball.

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ingram

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first wave of free agency

Posted on 14 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making significant additions and enduring substantial losses in the first wave of free agency, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t think the departure of Terrell Suggs has sunk in as most expected one of the franchise’s most iconic players to return for a 17th season. While Ray Lewis had the storybook ending and Ed Reed’s free-agent exit played out more gradually, Monday’s news was so abrupt.

2. Adding 29-year-old Mark Ingram made less sense if 2019 were shaping up to be more of a transition year with an eye toward the future, but he’s a well-rounded upgrade and has lower mileage as a timeshare back. His pass protection is also an upgrade over incumbents. Solid signing.

3. Ingram’s perception suffers from an “Alvin Kamara effect” as well as the infatuation some had with signing Le’Veon Bell, but he ranks first in yards per carry (4.71) and fourth in yards after contact per attempt (2.90) among backs with 550 carries since 2014, per Pro Football Focus. He’ll help.

4. Talent and on-field production are paramount, but I couldn’t help but think Ingram’s reputation in New Orleans and Earl Thomas’ winning pedigree in Seattle carry extra weight with the level of experience and leadership leaving Owings Mills this offseason.

5. The Thomas signing certainly reinforced Baltimore’s philosophy at safety after the organization failed with early draft picks and “value” signings early in the post-Ed Reed era. The Ravens have now given out a safety contract of $26 million or more in three of the last four offseasons.

6. Those with a longer-term viewpoint may not have cared for Eric DeCosta forgoing potential third- and fifth-round compensatory picks to sign Thomas and Ingram, but you can’t hold yourself prisoner to what still amounts to lower-percentage draft choices if the right free agent is available. There’s a middle road.

7. An optimistic outlook would say Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams haven’t had enough snaps to show what they can do, but coaches would have loved to have eased Suggs’ workload last year if either were deemed worthy. Either way, these 2017 draft picks have much to prove.

8. Adding a pass rusher or two must be a top priority for a front seven that’s endured substantial losses. That said, I think a great secondary carries more value in today’s game with more quick-drop passing and run-pass options that can really neutralize edge pressure.

9. More snaps are in order for the 2018 platoon of Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young, but a Daryl Smith-like stopgap would make me feel better about inside linebacker rather than expecting both to fill a full-time role without a hitch. We’ll found out how much Baltimore will miss C.J. Mosley.

10. Matt Skura received an additional $533,558 — a league high — in 2018 performance-based pay, a collectively-bargained program that compensates players based upon their playing time relative to salary levels. Making a $555,000 salary last year, Skura has provided good value making 28 starts the last two seasons.

11. Wink Martindale deserves much credit for last year’s defensive success, but losing Eric Weddle, Suggs, and Mosley will challenge the coordinator who gave those veterans so much freedom to make modifications before the snap. Thomas’ arrival helps, but there will certainly be an adjustment.

12. How does a Sunday night or Monday matchup of Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and the Cleveland passing game against Thomas, Marlon Humphrey, and the Baltimore secondary sound? Dismissing Pittsburgh would be very unwise, but Ravens-Browns sounds pretty darn interesting now.

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Ravens reach contract extension with cornerback Tavon Young

Posted on 21 February 2019 by Luke Jones

At his introductory press conference last month, new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta shared a desire to retain talented young players long before they reach free agency when the cost and risk of losing them rise.

Baltimore has apparently done that with slot cornerback Tavon Young, who tweeted Thursday he’s reached a contract extension with the organization that selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. The Ravens announced they’ll hold a Friday morning press conference with DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and an unnamed player expected to be the fourth-year defensive back.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the agreement is a three-year, $25.8 million contract with a max value of $29 million, which will make Young the highest-paid nickel corner in the NFL.

Young, 24, had one year remaining on his rookie contract and was scheduled to make just over $2 million in 2019 after reaching the proven performance escalator that’s in place for later-round draft picks. Despite missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Young has filled a significant role in the Ravens secondary, playing in 31 games and making 17 starts. He showed the ability to play outside as a rookie despite his diminutive size, but the presence of Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Jimmy Smith allowed him to remain in the slot for his third NFL season.

Teammates and coaches have often praised Young’s toughness with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale even labeling him “a pit bull” last season.

“Tavon is very aggressive. He has great ball skills. He’s a good tackler,” secondary coach Chris Hewitt said last November. “He’s having that small linebacker [role] being able to cover and be able to play against the run as well. Having a slot corner be able to cover, that’s paramount in a league where you’re facing three wide-receiver sets every time.”

The Oxon Hill native and Temple product rebounded nicely from the knee injury this past season, appearing in 15 games and collecting 37 tackles, one interception, and five pass breakups. He returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the final month of the season before missing the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with a sports hernia that required offseason surgery.

Young being a priority for an extension is a reflection of today’s NFL in which most teams use the nickel package as their base defense. Despite missing two whole games and parts of others with the sports hernia, the slot cornerback played over 58 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps in 2018.

With veteran quarterback Joe Flacco set to be traded to Denver next month and the 22-year-old Lamar Jackson — and his cheap rookie contract — entering his first full season as the starter, the Ravens find themselves in a better salary-cap position than they’ve enjoyed in years. Young is the first to reap the benefits of that flexibility.

“We would love to keep as much young talent as we can in Baltimore,” DeCosta said last month. “That’s hard to do at times when you have a really, really good quarterback who’s making a lot of money and you have less cap room. It’s tougher for you to keep your roster intact. It is a lot easier to do when you don’t have those parameters.”

It remains to be seen which other young players the Ravens are hoping to extend, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley and outside linebacker Matthew Judon headline the list of logical candidates who aren’t scheduled to hit the market this offseason.

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humphrey

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How did Ravens cornerbacks stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 15 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens cornerbacks ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends
Defensive linemen
Running backs

Brandon Carr
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 876
PFF ranking: 35th among cornerbacks
Skinny: The 32-year-old played and started in every game for the 11th straight year and was one of the most reliable performers on a top-ranked defense, finishing with 45 tackles and two interceptions. He also filled in effectively in the slot, making him more valuable at a $7 million salary cap figure for 2019.

Marlon Humphrey
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 718
PFF ranking: 11th among cornerbacks
Skinny: Humphrey emerged as one of Baltimore’s best players in his second season and appears on the cusp of becoming a Pro Bowl cornerback. Per PFF, his 52.5-percent catch rate allowed was the seventh best in the league while his 22.5-percent forced incompletion rate ranked third best.

Jimmy Smith
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 611
PFF ranking: 81st among cornerbacks
Skinny: Returning from a torn Achilles tendon and a four-game suspension to begin 2018, Smith struggled for much of the season before playing better down the stretch. A $15.85 million cap figure and $9.5 million salary for 2019 make it very possible the veteran has played his final game for Baltimore.

Tavon Young
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 602
PFF ranking: 75th among cornerbacks
Skinny: A sports hernia hindered him late in the year, but the slot corner played better than his PFF grade indicates, especially after missing the 2017 season with a knee injury. Young is entering the final year of his rookie contract and plays bigger and tougher than his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame suggests.

Anthony Averett
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 71
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The fourth-round rookie from Alabama missed five games with a hamstring injury, but he showed promise when he filled in for an injured Humphrey against Kansas City in Week 14. Optimism about his talent and development could make it easier to move on from Smith this offseason.

Maurice Canady
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 10
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: After emerging as a solid slot cornerback in the second half of 2017, Canady sustained a hamstring injury in the season opener and missed nine games. He returned in late November to contribute on special teams, but injuries have prevented him from consistently staying on the field.

Cyrus Jones
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 5
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The former Gilman standout is unlikely to fit into Baltimore’s defensive plans, but he offered a major lift as a punt returner, averaging 14.4 yards per attempt and returning one for a touchdown in Week 12. The ball security that doomed him in New England wasn’t a big issue this season.

2019 positional outlook

After enduring depth problems at cornerback for a few years, the Ravens have done a commendable job assembling a strong collection over the last couple offseasons, leaving them in solid position moving forward. Deciding what to do with Smith and his untenable cap number is the first item of business, but the veteran corner still has strong support within the organization, leaving open the possibility of working out a pay cut with incentives or even a modest short-term extension to lower his 2019 cap number. Some have speculated about Carr’s future in the same light, but his 2018 performance, superior durability, and cheaper cap number make him the better investment for the upcoming season. The Ravens have taken a cornerback with no lower than a fourth-round pick in four consecutive drafts, a streak I expect to continue if Smith is indeed released or traded in the coming weeks.

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jimmysmith

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-24 win over Cleveland

Posted on 01 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their first AFC North championship since 2012 with a 26-24 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The running game produced a season-high 296 yards and finished 2018 with the second-most rushing yards (2,441) in franchise history behind the 2003 team and ahead of the 2008 Ravens. What do those three playoff squads have in common? A rookie quarterback started a large portion of their games.

2. From going for a fourth-and-1 on the 48 on the first drive to using Cover 0 on the final four defensive plays, Baltimore was aggressive with the season on the line. Wink Martindale’s mindset was quite the contrast from rushing four and playing zone on fourth-and-12 last New Year’s Eve.

3. C.J. Mosley hasn’t had his best season and may not be worth the money required to re-sign him, but he made the game-sealing interception and was credited with four hurries by Pro Football Focus. I’ll maintain he’s underappreciated by much of a fan base using Ray Lewis as its standard.

4. Sam Koch deserves much credit for his 51-yard punt that put the Browns on their own 26 for their final drive. After a 37-yard return earlier, Antonio Callaway had nowhere to go near the sideline. A lesser punt very likely would have given Cleveland a potential game-winning field goal try.

5. The Ravens were an inch or two away from a 27-7 lead before Lamar Jackson’s fumble at the goal line. Not only were they fortunate a whistle prevented a Cleveland touchdown the other way, but the Browns failed to take advantage of further sloppy play from Baltimore before halftime.

6. Baker Mayfield made mistakes, but I couldn’t help but feel the Browns wasted plays at times trying to run and throw to the flats when they were having so much success pushing it down the field. The 7.6 yards per play allowed was easily a season worst for the Ravens.

7. Even in victory, it was concerning to see the offense unable to sustain a late drive to protect a one-score lead for the second straight contest. Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling inside the red zone and on that fourth-quarter drive was questionable.

8. It’s been an up-and-down season for Jimmy Smith, but he came up with the first two-interception game by a Baltimore player since 2013. Per PFF, he allowed just one catch for one yard on seven targets into his coverage. Especially with Marlon Humphrey struggling mightily, that was a critical performance.

9. The short-term ramifications of Sunday’s game dominated the attention, but I’ll gladly sign up for many more Jackson-Mayfield meetings in the years to come. Terrell Suggs’ praise for both rookies said it all. Ben Roethlisberger remains the AFC North quarterback king for now, but a shift is already underway.

10. John Brown registered games of 116 receiving yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 4 and 134 yards and a touchdown against New Orleans. Since Jackson became the starter, Brown has a total of eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. That’s rough playing on a one-year deal.

11. Sunday’s playoff contest will mark exactly six years since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed played their final home game as Ravens. It’s fitting Jackson, the most exciting player to arrive in Baltimore since Super Bowl XLVII, will start his first playoff game on that anniversary. What fun it should be.

12. Opinions differed on the black jerseys being paired with the purple pants for the first time, but I liked the unique look and hope to see it again, especially for a prime-time game. That was the 10th different uniform combination used by Baltimore this year. Oregon who?

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carrgoodguy

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Humphrey named 2018 Ravens MVP; Carr chosen as media “Good Guy”

Posted on 28 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the more unusual seasons in recent memory brought an interesting choice for the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player award.

Longtime quarterback Joe Flacco may have been the choice after the first quarter of the season while the man who replaced him, rookie Lamar Jackson, helped spark a second-half rebound that’s left Baltimore a win away from securing its first AFC North title since 2012. However, the constant in a season filled with ups and downs has been a defense ranking first in the NFL in total yards and points allowed entering Sunday’s regular-season finale against Cleveland.

That’s why standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey was ultimately selected as the 2018 Ravens MVP on Friday with Jackson finishing second and seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda ranking third in votes from the local media. The 2017 first-round pick from Alabama has broken out this season to become one of the better cornerbacks in the AFC and leads the Ravens in pass breakups (14) and is tied for the team lead in interceptions (two) despite missing two October games with a thigh injury. Humphrey enters Week 17 ranked as the NFL’s fifth-best cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

His performance has been particularly superb in the second half of the season as he made key plays to secure victories over Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, and the Los Angeles Chargers, feats that haven’t gone unnoticed.

“I guess you know it when you see it. Hey, actions speak louder than words, right?” said head coach John Harbaugh about Humphrey’s recent knack for finishing off games. “The proof is in the pudding. But he does a good job of that, and that’s what it’s all about and that’s how you win games. You make plays at the end to win games, especially in this league.”

The second-year cornerback declined to accept the honor or to be present for an informal ceremony with a team spokesman saying that Humphrey didn’t want to separate himself from his teammates.

Veteran cornerback Brandon Carr was voted as the local media’s “Good Guy,” an honor bestowed upon a player who goes above and beyond normal media obligations to be cooperative and make himself available to reporters. The 32-year-old is also the Ravens’ nominee for the 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year award and is very active with charitable causes related to children’s literacy, breast cancer, social justice, and serving underprivileged youth.

“Some things may be harder than others to publish, but you have to do it,” said Carr about being named “Good Guy” by media. “But, also, thank you for the voice you give the fans to get their feedback and just their gauge of the team [and] what’s going on. We all have a job to do; I appreciate you for doing yours as well.”

Wide receiver Willie Snead, safety Tony Jefferson, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and Yanda also received votes for the “Good Guy” award. As a token of gratitude, the local media will make a donation in Carr’s name to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.

Below is a history of the team MVP and “Good Guy” selections (in that order) dating back to their introduction by the local media in 2003:

2003: Jamal Lewis, Gary Baxter
2004: Ed Reed, Anthony Weaver
2005: Adalius Thomas, Jamal Lewis
2006: Steve McNair, Bart Scott
2007: Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason
2008: Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs
2009: Ray Rice, Jarret Johnson
2010: Haloti Ngata, Chris Carr
2011: Ray Rice, Bernard Pollard
2012: Ray Rice, Arthur Jones
2013: Justin Tucker, Joe Flacco
2014: Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith
2015: Marshal Yanda, Jimmy Smith
2016: Justin Tucker, Zachary Orr
2017: Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle
2018: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr

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