Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, is regarded as one of the best in a very deep group of rookies at the cornerback position. As I dove into with my film study of Humphrey, the Alabama product is strong in both press and zone coverage. However, what that film study mentioned, but did not discuss in full detail, is Humphrey’s incredible athleticism. Humphrey was a member of his high school track team, and was so good, that he continued to run as a member of the Alabama track team as well.
His overall athleticism led Nick Saban and the Alabama coaches to want to get Humphrey on the field whenever possible, and this included special teams. Over the course of his career at Alabama, Humphrey made a number of key plays on special teams, on both sides of the ball nonetheless.
One of the most famous plays in recent college football history was Alabama’s onside kick in the 2015-16 national championship game against Clemson. Crimson Tide kicker Adam Griffith booted a floater towards the sideline, which Humphrey would run under and catch. On this play, Saban utilized Humphrey’s athleticism to be able to beat the Clemson players in the area to the spot of the ball, as well as be able to make a catch in the air. Humphrey executes the play perfectly, helping to fully swing the momentum to Alabama in the Tide’s eventual victory.
Despite Humphrey’s great play on the onside kick, Saban used his young cornerback on kick coverage more often. The next video is a montage of some of Humphrey’s plays covering kicks, and they all show the same traits. First, Humphrey’s speed is evident. Remember, in addition to being a star on the gridiron, Humphrey was a star on the track. Humphrey was utilized mostly on special teams by the playing the role of the L1 or R1 position on kick coverage (the two outer most players in the kick coverage formation). The job of that player is to get down the field first and set the edge. Humphrey’s speed allows him to get down the field in the necessary time, and that’s when his physicality comes into play. From my first film study on Humphrey, I wrote that tackling and physicality is one of Humphrey’s biggest strengths. To set the edge, Humphrey will have to be physical to shed blockers. Once he gets past the outside blockers, he can bear down on the ball carrier, and bring him to the turf.
Similar to the above video, Humphrey is sent to be the first one down the field, just this time on punt coverage. Humphrey is the recipient of a block in the back on this play, but if he isn’t hit, there is a very good chance Humphrey could have made the tackle. I wanted to use this video despite the penalty because it shows how quickly Humphrey gets down the field in kick coverage, especially considering the fact that he had to go nearly all the way across the field in addition to the 50-60 yards down the field.
These clips all show that Humphrey has an ability to help the Ravens on special teams, but there is a reason that, despite all of his speed and athleticism, none of these clips show Humphrey returning a kick or punt. Before the 2016-17 season, Humphrey said, per AL.com, that he didn’t actually want to return kicks.
But that may not matter, as what these clips do show is that Humphrey truly could impact the Ravens on kick coverage from day one. The Ravens pride themselves on special teams play, and having a good edge player on kick coverage could be huge. Someone like Humphrey could set opponents up with poor field position right on the first play from scrimmage, making the life of the defense easier. In addition, kick coverage may the way the Humphrey is able to see the field in his rookie season if Brandon Carr beats the Alabama product out for the starting outside corner role. This is especially true since, as the Baltimore Sun reported, Humphrey isn’t a favorite to fill the slot corner role voided by Tavon Young’s unfortunate injury.
Given Humphrey’s athletic, playmaking traits, it would be more than surprising to me if the Ravens don’t at least try to get the 2017 first round pick on the field. Based on what I’ve seen from film, playing time on special teams may be just the way to do so.