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.