One of the most intriguing picks by the Baltimore Ravens and third-year General Manager Eric DeCosta in the 2021 NFL Draft was the selection of defensive back Brandon Stephens. Not much was known about him by the ESPN or NFL Network broadcast teams when the pick was announced. However, NFL Network analyst and former Ravens’ scout Daniel Jeremiah was able to provide some analysis.
Stephens wasn’t ranked very high on many pundits’ big boards and certainly not within the top three rounds in their projections so to call him a late day two surprise at the time would’ve been accurate. He began his collegiate career at UCLA on the offensive side of the ball as a running back before transferring to play on defense for the Mustangs where he played both corner and safety.
DeCosta told reporters following the conclusion of the second day of the draft that the Ravens view him as a safety. Their foresight to project where he’d best fit in at the next level seems to be paying off so far as reports and reviews of him from training camp have been positive. Despite his lack of experience playing the position, he is learning quickly, looks comfortable, is making plays in practice, and is adapting well.
Head Coach John Harbaugh likes the “natural understanding of the game” that he’s seen from Stephens in the backend for someone who only has two years of college experience playing defensive back or defensive at all.
“That’s pretty darn impressive,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a very quick learner [and] kind of a natural mover for a defensive back.”
Given the short time that he’s been playing defensive back, Ravens Defensive Pass Game Coordinator/Secondary Coach Chris Hewitt says that Stephens is still in the infancy stage but did commend him on his accelerated aptitude and ability and believes he’s on track.
“He’s a guy that’s only played two years of defensive back, so as far as [him] as a DB, he’s an infant, but he’s learning fast, he’s a great athlete, and he’s going to continue to keep on learning,” said Hewitt. “We’ll find out where he ends up, as far as a player, but right now, he’s heading in the right direction. I’m happy that he’s around right now.”
While the only known tie that Stephens had to Ravens prior to getting drafted was that he was teammates with second-year receiver James Proche in college for a year and he also has a connection with starting safety DeShon Elliott. They both grew up in the Dallas area of Texas and train with personal defensive backs coach Clay Mack of the Clay Mack Skills Academy.
“When I got the notification that ‘B-Steve’ was getting drafted by us, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s live,” said Elliott. “I know how hard he works and how hard he wants to be great and how great of a person he is.”
Elliott credits his background as a running back for his “great feet”, likes the way he’s moving around the backend, is encouraging him to be more vocal in his communication as he learns the playbook, and believes in his potential to blossom into a difference-maker.
“He’s just trying to learn the defense. I’m trying to get that boy to talk a bit more. He’s a little silent guy, so I’ve got to get him to talk more on the football field,” said Elliott. “He’s going to be great. He’s got potential to be great, and if he keeps working and following the leaders we have on this team, he’s going to be a great player one day.”
The Ravens covet and value defenders that possess diverse skillsets and position versatility. Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale thinks that the fact that Stephens was able to play and excel at three different positions in college speaks volumes for his athleticism and intelligence.
“He’s a smart kid, and I really, really like him,” said Martindale. “I think he’s going to be a great football player for us.”
Martindale’s scheme is one of the most complex in the league that is hard to learn and even harder to master. He expects Stephens and the other rookies on the defensive side of the ball to not be as outspoken until they get more comfortable in the system and their respective roles within it.
“As all the rookies are, they’re a little quiet right now, because in essence, when you’re a rookie football player – if you want to think back to high school or college... it’s like the freshman going into the senior’s class,” said Martindale. “They’re listening and learning, and then eventually, they start getting confident with what their responsibilities are and what others are, and you just see them start to grow. He’s already doing that.”
According to multiple reports and observations from training camp, Stephens has been getting in a groove, looking more comfortable and flashing his playmaking ability both in coverage and as a blitzer.
Rookie S Brandon Stephens had an active day. He made a nice play to break up a pass to James Proche in a 7-on-7 red-zone drill, and he was on the backfield a lot as a blitzer. Def coord Don "Wink" Martindale has spoken highly of Stephens— Bo Smolka (@bsmolka) August 12, 2021
Marlon Humphrey was sticky as fly paper today, Tylan Wallace had a few nice snags and toe taps.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) August 2, 2021
Brandon Stephens looks like he’s getting more confident breaking from the post, while the Ravens only had *six* defensive lineman today.
Ravens' Thursday recap— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) August 12, 2021
⛏️Kristian Welch, DeShon Elliott both had picks off deflections
Devin Duvernay, Sammy Watkins had strong days
Rookie S Brandon Stephens flashed in coverage and on blitzes
Rashod Bateman (groin) will undergo surgery
The next step for Stephens, his fellow rookies, and players on the roster bubble is to show out at the same or even higher level in live competition during the preseason. He’ll get his first chance to just that in what will likely be extensive action on Saturday when the Ravens face off against the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium.