With the 16th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected Marlon Humphrey, a cornerback out of Alabama. Humphrey will immediately add depth to a revamped and much improved Ravens secondary, and if not in Week 1, Humphrey could win a starting spot at some point in the 2017 season. Humphrey fits the mold of the Ravens defensive scheme well. In fact, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote that Humphrey’s pro comparison is his now teammate, Jimmy Smith. Let’s look at what one of the newest Ravens excels at, as well as the aspects of the game in which he struggles.
The Ravens love tough, physical football players. They also love Alabama products. Humphrey is both, and he shows off his physicality when playing press coverage.
In the Peach Bowl against Washington, Humphrey was matched up with the most talented wide receiver he had faced all year to that point, John Ross. Ross is small, but his rise into the top 10 of the draft was due to his blazing speed. Humphrey made sure to keep Ross check right off the line of scrimmage by putting his hands on Ross immediately. Ross cuts toward the inside, but Humphrey remains all over him, forcing an incompletion. (You can see the top of Humphrey’s helmet at the bottom of the screen, but he isn’t in the frame the whole time. The replay provides a better angle.)
I recommend watching that entire video because Humphrey is able to take John Ross completely out of the game. This is good to see, as the Ravens will be seeing Ross twice a year for the next five years.
In this play against Tennessee, Humphrey is able to force the receiver out toward the sideline immediately off of the snap. The receiver then cuts back toward the middle of the field, but Humphrey remains draped over him. Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs throws in Humphrey’s direction, but Humphrey is easily able to break up the pass.
Humphrey is the most physical of all the rookie cornerbacks coming into the NFL this year. Humphrey’s physicality is what allows him to excel when playing press. While he showed good coverage skills in press, where the Alabama prospect is truly special is in zone coverage.
The best aspect of Marlon Humphrey’s game is how well he plays in zone coverage. Because of his athleticism and coverage skills, Humphrey is able to cover a lot of ground very quickly. A receiver may initially look open, but Humphrey is able to quickly close in and breakup the pass, or even pick it off as he shows in the two below plays.
This first play is against Texas A&M. Humphrey lines up off of the two stacked receivers in zone coverage. The ball is snapped, and Humphrey drifts in the area between the receiver that stays short, and the receiver that goes downfield. All the while, Humphrey has his eyes locked on Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight as mentioned by Gary Danielson on the broadcast. Once the ball is thrown downfield to Josh Reynolds, Humphrey breaks in the direction of the throw, is able to jump in front of Reynolds, and haul in the interception.
In the above play, Humphrey is able to show his skills at reading the quarterback, as well as his instincts to get to the right spot in order to make a play. He effortlessly glides in zone coverage which allows him to be able to defend receivers at all points in his assigned area.
Humphrey again is able to create a turnover when playing zone against Georgia. Lining up back from the line of scrimmage on the outside, Humphrey indicates that he will be taking care of the sideline. Humphrey then picks up the receiver running into his zone, and puts himself right in the face of the pass catcher. He stays with the Georgia player down the field, forcing him toward the sideline, and into a bad position. Humphrey gets his head around a little late on the play, but he is still able to make the interception. Humphrey makes the catch with despite the contact because he forced the receiver to have to jump over him to even have a chance to get a finger on the ball.
This is the most exciting part of Humphrey’s game. More than most cornerbacks, Humphrey loves to tackle, and not just tackle, but make sure to lay out the offensive player. As previously mentioned, Humphrey’s pro comparison was Jimmy Smith, and Smith also loves to hit. The Ravens, who pride themselves on physicality, likely loved this aspect of Humphrey’s game, which is similar to Smith. In his career at Alabama, Humphrey had 81 total tackles, a very impressive number for just 29 games.
Humphrey set the tone in Alabama’s dominating victory over USC very early in the game with a big hit. USC runs a jet sweep on this play, and Humphrey is all over it. Humphrey starts at the bottom of the screen on JuJu Smith-Schuster, and disappears while following Smith-Schuster downfield. However, when Humphrey sees the play developing, he comes back, bursting back onto the screen and slamming the ball carrier to the turf.
Receiver blocks don’t work on Humphrey, he is just too physical. Against Texas A&M Humphrey proves that statement to be true. Humphrey quickly sheds the block on him, and his able to blow up the screen pass for a loss of yards.
The deep ball/footwork
Humphrey does not have many flaws, but the deep ball is one. Despite all of his athletic traits, keep in mind, Humphrey was also on the Alabama track team, Humphrey really struggled against deep throws down the field. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey allowed an average gain of 16.9 yards per reception over his two years at Alabama.
Even in the interception shown earlier against Georgia, Humphrey didn’t turn around until way to late, and was somewhat lucky that the throw fell right into his lap.
Often times, he is able to get beat off the line due to poor footwork. This is shown in this first play against Auburn. Humphrey takes an extra step or two to completely turn around instead of smoothly flipping his hips with the receiver. This allows the receiver to beat Humphrey downfield, and if not for pressure put on by the Alabama front, a big play was more than likely.
The next two plays are both against Georgia, both with Malcolm Mitchell, and both happen for the same reason. On both plays, Mitchell uses a stutter step to get past Humphrey, and does it effectively. Mitchell is able to get a step on Humphrey and haul in the pass for a big gain (on the first play Mitchell was ruled out of bounds, but that was largely due to an under-thrown pass, Mitchell was wide open).
On both plays, Humphrey spends the whole time looking at the receiver, not the ball. Part of the knock on Humphrey is that he can’t locate the ball, and these two plays show that that may be because he isn’t even looking for it. In order to make a play on a deep throw, Humphrey has to look up to have an idea of where the ball is.
Humphrey also wasn’t consistently able to win jump balls, often being late to react. That is shown here against Mike Williams, as Williams is able to go up and get the ball before Humphrey is able to reach the catch point and make a play.
Bottom Line: All in all, when looking through his deep ball tape, Humphrey has just OK ball skills. He is physical and shows good coverage skills in zone, and in short yardage scenarios for press/man, but his biggest struggle is down the field. If Humphrey is able to improve at locating the ball, he could develop into an excellent cornerback for the Ravens, and one that should form a dominant duo with Jimmy Smith.