Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tavon Young suffered a torn ACL in offseason team activities last June. While the team’s injury issues have probably been overblown, Young’s loss was underrated. Having their premier slot man available last season could have honestly propelled the Ravens into the playoffs.
As a rookie in 2016, after being drafted in the fourth round out of Temple, Tavon started 11 games. His stat line included 44 solo tackles, eight pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded him as the third best rookie corner and he was expected to thrive in a full time role on the inside after the front office bolstered their depth on the outside with Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey.
The Ravens finished the season with the most interceptions, eleventh most sacks and tenth least passing yards allowed per game last year. The pass defense could have been even better with Young on the field. Veteran Lardarius Webb was frequently targeted in coverage for third down conversions until Maurice Canady took over slot corner duties. Canady played well overall, but missed a tackle on Tyler Boyd’s back breaking touchdown in Week 17.
Looking forward to the 2018 season, Young could take the defense to the next level. He has been back in cleats since December and should be a full participant in training camp, if not sooner. Advances in modern medicine have allowed shorter recovery times for torn ACLs and greatly minimized the long term effects of this formerly debilitating injury.
Young has the ideal skillset for a slot cornerback. His speed, acceleration, agility and sure tackling is the perfect counter to the shifty slot receivers who populate NFL rosters. Top cover man Jimmy Smith may not be ready for the start of the season due to a torn Achilles, but Carr and Humphrey are a capable starting duo.
Adding Young to the secondary could cause a beneficial domino effect. Young’s coverage ability should result in a more aggressive man-to-man calls that would help eliminate the zones that opened up between C.J. Mosley, Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle too often last year. Perhaps most importantly, Canady could be moved to his more natural safety position, bringing much needed speed to the backend.
The Ravens will face a dangerous slate of speed receivers in 2018, including Antonio Brown, Tyreek Hill and Corey Coleman. They will also presumably encounter a much better group of quarterbacks than the cast of backups that inflated their record in 2017. Nonetheless, the return of Tavon Young is one of the greatest reasons to be optimistic about the 2018 defense.