The days following the draft are filled with tremendous hope and hype where fans and pundits like to predict and project big rookie seasons for everyone. However, that is often not the case because making the jump from college to the pros can be a steep and sometimes arduous one for first-year players to make right away.
With that in mind, here’s the fifth in a series of articles that detail realistic year one expectations for each member of the Baltimore Ravens 2021 draft class:
DB Brandon Stephens — Round 3, No. 104
The former SMU Mustang is a developmental defensive back with the positional versatility to play almost every position in the secondary including outside and nickel corner as well as free safety where the Ravens “like his potential” according to General Manager Eric DeCosta.
“He’s primarily been a corner with some safety play this past year, but he really fits the profile of a free safety-type of player,” DeCosta said. “The thing I like about him when I watch him is with his background as a running back, he really does like contact. He comes up, he’s physical. He’ll force the issue, and he can close the gap very quickly.”
As DeCosta alluded to above, Stephens is still fairly new to playing on defense after he spent the first two years in college playing running back at UCLA before transferring following the 2018 season.
The Ravens scouts identified him as a developmental corner per Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz and admired the desire to want to play on defense that drove his decision to transfer to a less-heralded program.
“I’ve always had a love for defense and playing DB,” Stephens said. “I played a little bit in high school, so that’s where my love for the position really started. I just really felt like it was just the better option for me. I felt that that’s where my head was at [and] that’s where my passion was. So, I just had to bet on myself and go with where my heart was at.”
His decision to switch positions and flip to the other side of the ball wasn’t a popular one nor was it understood by those close to him. However, he was determined and embraced the challenge.
“There was a lot of doubters when I made the move,” he said. “Some people didn’t understand why I was making the move, but I did. This just goes to prove what I saw and what my vision was going forward.”
“I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it wasn’t a challenge that I was going to step away from. So, for me, it was just focusing on the playbook and just learning the terminology at SMU, because that was my first time learning a defensive playbook. When I came to SMU, the only thing I knew was man coverage, so I would say that was one of the challenges at first.”
He still has work to do in terms of learning the fundamentals and other nuances of playing defensive back but they were impressed by his production, superb ball skills, flashes of potential, and the improvement he showed with the more experience he gained.
“Over two years of playing corner, he had 21 PBUs [pass breakups].” Hortiz said. “He’s a big, physical, athletic kid, who got his hands on a lot of balls. “And [we] really just see a lot of raw talent, and you really saw him get better throughout the season if you watch his games in chronological order.”
Brandon Stephens is always around the football, and has the potential to become a true ball-hawking defensive back in the NFL pic.twitter.com/d9iEsciJZ8— Kevin Oestreicher (@koestreicher34) May 1, 2021
Stephens prides himself on his ability to play multiple positions in the secondary and is willing to play wherever his team needs him. He was also a team captain, completing the trifecta of leadership, versatility, and selflessness that the Ravens look for and covet in all their prospective players.
His lack of extensive experience playing defensive back doesn’t mean that he will be a long-term project but it would be a little overly optimistic to expect him to have a prominent role on defense as a rookie considering the veteran depth in front of him unless an injury were to occur.
He will most likely see his most extensive playing time as a rookie on special teams, where he projects to be a core contributor in year one. Stephens could follow the route that the Ravens current starting safeties (Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott) took to earn more meaningful defensive snaps at safety in sub-packages by standing out and making plays on kick coverage units.