The Ravens have made improving the secondary a priority in recent seasons, particularly at the cornerback position. They used a fourth-round pick and first-round pick to select Tavon Young and Marlon Humphrey in back-to-back drafts, and also signed Brandon Carr in free agency ahead of the 2017 season.
Baltimore’s investments at the position have paid off, as their cornerback group is arguably the now deepest, most-talented in the league. The fact that Jimmy Smith is now the third, maybe even the fourth best corner on the team speaks to the depth the Ravens have. This is no way a slight towards smith, either, but a testament to the skill level of Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Tavon Young.
If you move further down the depth chart, the Ravens have the likes of Anthony Averett, Maurice Canady, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, three talented young guys who have flashed upside and possess untapped potential. With Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith no longer setting the edge, the Ravens pass rush figures to take at least a small step back next season. If the pass rush is less effective, the play of Baltimore’s cornerbacks becomes even more crucial to the success of the defense.
Barring any unforeseen injuries or developments prior to the season, the Ravens will return the same group of guys from last season. Check out these bold predictions below and be sure to leave your thoughts in the comment section!
4 + 4 = 8
Marlon Humphrey has performed a very high level since entering the league two years ago. However, even after taking a step forward in his development last season and performing as the 11th-best cornerback in the league, it still feels as though he doesn’t receive the national recognition that he deserves. I believe this is the year that changes. The heading above may seem a bit confusing, so allow me to explain. Humphrey recently announced that his new jersey number is 44, which is the number his father wore during his playing years. If you add four and four together, you get eight - the number of interceptions I envision Humphrey recording next year.
Only four players have accomplished this feat since the 2015 season: Reggie Nelson, Marcus Peters, Darius Slay, and Kevin Byard. The last Ravens player to post eight interceptions was Ed Reed in 2010. Eric Weddle came the closest to matching this benchmark two seasons ago when he recorded six. Humphrey has just four career interceptions in two seasons, so expecting that number to suddenly jump to eight seems a bit far-fetched. However, these are bold predictions for a reason. Humphrey has great ball skills and possesses the athleticism to hold his own against almost any receiver in the league. Humphrey has been rock-solid for two straight seasons, but this third year is when he’ll truly ascend to elite status at the position.
Jimmy Smith is traded before the end of the season
There’s been talk all offseason about the Ravens potentially parting ways with Jimmy Smith, who carries a cap hit of nearly $16 million for the 2019-20 season. However, these rumors don’t seem to hold any validity, as general manager Eric DeCosta pushed back on the notion that Smith won’t be on the team next year while speaking to reporters at the end of match. Although the Ravens are adement on keeping Smith in the fold at this current moment, Smith, soon to be 31 years old, has always had the potential and talent to be an elite cornerback in the NFL.
While he’s performed at such level for certain stretches over the past eight years, Smith’s inability to consistently stay on the field has held him back. While he’s still plenty capable of playing good football, Smith is no longer the player he once was, as injuries have taken their toll over the past several years. Smith is entering the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season. Trading a player of Smith’s caliber in the middle of the season doesn’t seem like a Ravens-like move, but it could be a beneficial idea. Given his age and the investment in other players at the position, the odds of Smith getting resigned to a new contract after this season seems unlikely. Instead, that money will probably be utilized in giving contract extensions to the likes of Matthew Judon, Ronnie Stanley, and Michael Pierce.
A lot of things can happen between now and the trade deadline of next season, but Smith, assuming he avoids injury, would probably garner a decent amount of interest on the market. Good cornerbacks can be hard to come by and Smith still has some high-level play left in the tank. Why not get a mid-round draft pick for him instead of watching him walk in free agency? Trading him before the season is over would also allow Baltimore to get an extended look at younger players waiting in the wings, like Anthony Averett and Maurice Canady, to further determine if they’re potential long-term options at cornerback.
Brandon Carr will be inactive for at least one game
Does predicting an injury really qualify as a bold prediction? Maybe not for most players, but in the case of Brandon Carr, yes. Obviously, no Ravens fan wants to see Carr miss any action next season. However, Carr is turning 33 years old next month and has remarkably never missed a game in 11 seasons. It feels as though Carr is bound to get nicked or banged up at some point, as father time is generally undefeated. Given the Ravens depth at the position, they could afford to have Carr sit a game or two should he encounter some form of an injury. Carr has been the beneficiary of a prolonged string of good health. Whether that be because of his own doing, sheer luck, or a combination of both, he’s bound to miss a game at some point. H